1. Lightning On The Prairie
By the time Jesse spotted Geronimo it was way too late to outrun him, the big Chief was almost on top of the boy. It’s not as if Jesse didn’t try, he ran as fast anyone could in a ‘drip dry only, one size fits all, do not iron’ cowboy outfit but his enemy was catching up with him, and fast.
Jesse slid in behind a large rock, the space being just enough to allow the boy to squeeze through with little chance of Geronimo following. He squatted down for what seemed an eternity and tried to avoid breathing too heavily.
Suddenly Jesse felt the air move above his head and looking up he saw the massive fingers of his enemy feeling around for the boy’s head. There wasn’t much room to move in the cavity and this allowed Geronimo to grab Jesse’s hair with ease.
“Then come out little warrior and I will save you more pain.”
Jesse had no option but to come crawling out. He was then made to lie on his back as Geronimo lifted his tomahawk high into the air.
“I will make this quick little warrior and then you will join with your ancestors.”
Whack! The tomahawk came down on Jesse’s head.
Or rather it didn’t.
The teacher’s hand slapped Jesse’s desk right next to the boy's ear.
“Jesse! You’ve been sleeping in class again.”
Sure enough when he lifted his head the rest of the class were staring back at him, nothing unusual there. Some kid at the back shouted ‘don’t kill me Geronimo’ in a high pitched girl’s voice and all of the other kids started laughing.
Jesse was still feeling stupid when he met with his mother.
“What’s up, hun?”
He hated the way, even although he was eight years of the age, that his mother always took his hand in public.
“Stop struggling hun, I’m not letting you go and anyway we’re going to see someone.”
“It’s a surprise.”
All sorts of stuff went through his mind, like maybe she had seen sense and was going to get him that new game after all. Jesse and his mother stepped off the bus right outside of the ‘Golden Pastures Home of Serenity’.
To Jesse it looked like a prison and once he had been dragged inside, it smelt like one too. His father, his real father, was in prison and Jesse had been to visit him a couple of times and boy did the place smell.
“We’re here to meet someone special."
As Jesse and his mother were shown upstairs by an overweight man who confused Jesse by calling himself a nurse, Jesse’s mother held her son’s hand tighter and tighter which made the boy think maybe she was scared about something.
"I haven't been to see him in a very long time."
Pushing open a glass door, they entered what the big-nurse-man called the day room. In one corner, a young woman was trying to get those who occupied the chairs to exercise and stretch. Mostly they just stared out of the window. In another corner, two or three women were learning to arrange flowers in vases. Over by the library of unread books were two people sitting painting. A young guy called Steve was showing them how to put the water colours onto the paper.
The elder of the two, a woman called Sadie and proud that she was ninety two years old was enthusiastically throwing paint on the paper.
"Very good Sadie, very good indeed". The other budding artist was a man who looked as if he had been famous at one time, at least that’s the way it seemed to Jesse. He was concentrating on his painting but his eyes looked as if whoever was inside of his head had gone home.
“This is your grandfather, Jesse. Dad meet Jesse, Jesse meet my dad.” Jesse’s mother cleared a very nervous dry throat. "I know I haven't been to see you much and I'm sorry. We're both sorry."
Steve said “I’m sure he knows you’re there, don’t worry if he’s quiet.”
Jesse’s mother took her son over to a corner to have one of those ‘talks’ but this one seemed to make her more uncomfortable than usual.
“I’m going to leave you here for a while Jesse. Now stop looking like that. How often to I ask you to do anything? Eh? Don’t be selfish. You can help your grandfather to paint. Get to know him.”
And with that she was gone.
As Jesse’s mother walked back down stairs, she kept telling herself she had no choice, no choice at all but to leave the boy. Back home she had Jesse to look after as well as Ed, her boyfriend, who was in the process of being a professional musician. Ed slept most of the day and was sometimes out with his band in the evenings. To keep the house going she had to work double shifts, mostly back-to-back at the local Supervalue store. She seemed to have the uniform grafted on to her body to prove it.
Luckily Jesse had brought his hand held computer with him, it was an old one which he’d been given by his father, his real father, not that Ed guy who his mother let hang around. He knew when his dad came out of prison he’d buy him a new one and he’d get rid of Ed. His dad had made Jesse a promise, not about Ed but about the computer. Jesse looked at his grandfather who just kept painting without turning his head.
Jesse had just got to level fourteen of Empires of Saturn on his computer when suddenly Ed was standing by his side.
“Who’s the old guy?”
“I thought my Mum was coming.”
“Oh yeh, she called, she’s still at work.”
And with that, Ed yanked Jesse off the seat and out the door.
“Who did you say that old guy was?”
They bought one burger on the way home although Jesse suspected that Ed had kept most of the money in his pocket. When they got back home, Ed told Jesse to go up stairs and do his school work or something as Ed was busy with his guitar. And could he please keep the noise down as Ed had to concentrate.
Jesse tried to keep awake as long as possible. He didn’t like falling asleep when Ed was there because when he woke up, Ed had usually gone out to buy beer with the remainder of the burger money.
Jesse had only put his head on the pillow for a second when Geronimo turned up in his bedroom.
“We have unfinished business little warrior. Geronimo must complete what he started or his own ancestors will be angry.”
Jesse immediately jumped from his bedroom window and landed safely in the garden which struck him as strange as the jump was about fifteen feet. Geronimo had also managed the same and was once again on his case.
Jesse crossed Sinclair Street at the last minute,just as a bus was turning the corner, which meant that Geronimo had to wait. At least that’s what Jesse had thought but there was Geronimo on the roof of the bus beating his chest.
Jesse dived into Mrs Swanky’s garden and hid beneath the Rose Pagonias. He was sure that Geronimo had failed to see him and thought he heard the warrior passing on down Sinclair Street.
After a few minutes Jesse felt it was safe to crawl out from the bushes, still he had to make sure that Mrs Swanky wasn’t staring out of her window – something she seemed to spend hours doing. It felt safe enough and so he made a dash for the side gate. However just as he turned he saw that Geronimo now had a partner, someone he’d never seen him with before – it was Ed dressed, not as an Apache as he would have expected, but as a circus clown. Jesse hated clowns and Ed probably knew this.
Now Geronimo and the Clown were chasing him through Mrs Swanky’s vegetable garden. Jesse noticed that the door to the garden shed where Mr Swanky used to sit and smoke, was open. So he jumped in and slammed the door behind him, all in one glorious movement.
Through the window he could see Geronimo and the Clown discussing how to get Jesse out of the shed. It was just then that he spotted the flaming torch that Ed held in his right hand. They were going to smoke him out or worse still, burn the shed down.
Jesse started to shake a little, just nerves he thought, but it grew worse and worse until he was almost shaking out of his skin.
“Jesse, wake up or you won't sleep when it's time!”
It was his mother shaking him on the bed.
“Did Ed collect you okay and did you get something to eat?”
Jesse just nodded his head.
“Ed seems to have popped out for a moment. So you're all right then?”
Jesse’s mother didn’t wait for an answer. She ruffled his hair then left the room, switching off the light on the way out.
The next afternoon it was only Jesse and his grandfather in the painting corner. Sadie had been taken away and as far as Jesse could work out, it was something to do with the police coming to get her. He’d heard the big-nurse-man say that it had been a cardiac arrest. Jesse thought she must have done something really bad to get one of those.
Since it was just Jesse and his grandfather and since he’d forgotten his Empires of Saturn game, he thought he’d tell his grandfather about how things really were.
He told him about how he always tried to keep awake so that Ed wouldn't go to the bar, and how, when he did fall asleep, Geronimo and his friend the Clown were out to kill Jesse and that the Clown was really just Ed in disguise.
As Jesse had expected his grandfather didn’t say a word but just kept painting what looked like hills and trees. Thankfully it was his mother who came to get him that night.
This time, on the way home, they had burgers, fries, onion rings and chocolate pudding to finish which was just as well as the night turned out to be a bad one; not only did Geronimo appear in his bedroom but so did all the other kids in his class, including his teacher – each of them dressed as Apache warriors and all of them wanting to scalp Jesse.
This time he managed to outwit them all - they had expected Jesse to jump out of the window - but he ran down the stairs and out the front door. He was half way along Sinclair Street before they realised he was even gone.
He had only stopped to catch his breath for a moment when he saw not one, not two, but at least six clowns led by Ed heading towards him. He had to face it, it was all over for Jesse and that was that. At eight years of age he’d had a good life and now it was time to meet up with his posse.
There was nowhere to run, that was until someone grabbed him by the collar and threw him over their shoulder. They sprinted through all the gardens and didn't stop until they were safely on the main road out of town.
When no one seemed to be following them, his rescuer put him down by the side of the road and told Jesse to sit on the big rock by the tree. It was only when Jesse put his hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun, that he realised that the man was his grandfather.
“I couldn’t leave you in that tight spot Jesse, not now that you and I are friends.”
“I thought you couldn’t speak Granddad.”
“Nothing to say son, so I just keep quiet.”
And so they talked and talked. His grandfather told Jesse about all the dreams he'd had when he was Jesse’s age and how he’d had a good life. Jesse told his grandfather about how he tried to keep awake but ended up falling asleep in school and how the kids laughed at him.
His grandfather said that if ever Geronimo or the clowns came after Jesse again then they would have his Granddad to answer to. He would always be there for him and that was a promise.
Then his grandfather told him of the one thing that he’d wished he’d done.
“When I was a boy I always wanted to go the prairies and see the forked lightning. Don’t ask me why but you’ve got live your dreams Jesse no matter what. Now I’m stuck in a home just painting and waiting and no chance of ever seeing the lightning. Don’t be like that my lovely boy, always, always live your dreams”
For the first time that he could remember, Jesse slept the rest of the night without Geronimo or clowns coming to visit.
The following day an excited Jesse headed off with his mother to visit his grandfather but his mother saw by the look on the big-nurse-man's face that something was very wrong.
“Could you please step into the office for a moment, the boy can stay here.”
It wasn’t long before his mother came out of the office with red eyes - she had been crying.
“I’m so sorry” said the big-nurse-man.
Jesse’s mother held him very tightly but didn’t explain why, then she took him by the hand and led him down the corridor.
“Wait” said the big-nurse-man “he finished that painting, your father, before he died. Maybe you’d like to take it with you? You can collect the rest of his stuff later.”
The nurse came out of the office with her father’s painting. It still had the hills and trees but in the middle of it was Jesse with his Granddad's arm around him, both were looking out at the prairie as it was being struck by lightning.
2. A Child Of Atlantis
The house was built to be admired. It had even outshone the new hotel that stood only a few yards away on the corner of Main Street. The town of Kingston was growing up fast, sitting pretty and, above all, ready for the fast approaching twentieth century.
Andrew had been born here on the edge of the Catskills, unlike the rest of his family who had originally hailed from Lansdale, Pennsylvania.They had made their money in retail around the Market East area of Philadelphia, launching their grand store in the opening weeks of the American Civil War. Most of the brothers and sisters had built villas around the Schuylkill River but Edward, Andrew’s father, had decided to sell his share of the claustrophobic business and move to the Hudson valley in New York State.
Edward continued to work in the trade by investing his money in, and running, The Fifth Avenue Emporium in Manhattan. Each morning, he would ride the train from Kingston into the Grand Central Depot and each evening, after making more dollars than he could ever possibly need, would return home again. If he was being honest, Edward lived for those return train journeys, smoking his cigar and reading his journal as the evening sun set on the shimmering Hudson River.
Edward’s eldest son, Brett, was currently attending West Point Military Academy and each night, as the train passed nearby, the proud father would give a small salute. His middle son, Michael, was studying, as had all the family, at The University of Pennsylvania and it was his hope that Michael would follow in his father’s money making footsteps.
His youngest son, Andrew, was born only a year after the family had moved north and was still to blossom into a creature that Edward could mould. As for Isabel, his devoted wife, he was pleased to report that both of them still found each other’s company attractive.
Andrew didn’t attend any of the schools in Kingston, instead his father had engaged a tutor to ensure that all the educational needs, which Andrew required, were carried out at home. There was also a nanny on hand, in case Andrew was in need of a woman’s touch; his father thoroughly satisfied himself that he had thought of every possible need and want for his youngest son.
When the boy required some fresh air and outdoor pursuits, Edward would take his son hunting up into the hills around Woodstock where Edward would stand behind his son helping him to aim the rifle and pull the trigger. What Edward couldn’t see was that Andrew had his eyes closed almost constantly and detested the thought of killing another living creature.
The head of one of Andrew’s ‘kills’ was stuffed and mounted and put in pride of place in the trophy room of that house which stood on the hill and was built to be admired.
One day Edward took Andrew into the study to give him his birthday present.
“But my birthday is not for another two weeks, Papa.”
“I know that son, but your mother and I will be travelling on that day, so we thought you should get your present sooner rather than later. You see, that is how much we love you.”
Andrew could tell by the gun-shaped wrapping, what the present was and he wasn’t disappointed.
“You don’t look too happy son?”
“No Papa, I like it. Thank you Sir”
Edward tussled Andrew’s hair and sent him on his way, adding “We can go shooting together when I return”
Edward and Isabel were planning to attend The Chicago World’s Fair and would miss their youngest son’s birthday. Edward explained to Isabel, in terms that she would understand, that their son Andrew would have many more birthdays but the World’s Fair only came along once in a generation. Edward felt his wife understood and was happy to comply.
Andrew watched the carriage pull away from the house as his parents left for the rail road station and on to Chicago. No one had asked Andrew, but he would have loved to have gone to the World’s Fair. He was now in his tenth year and no one had ever asked Andrew what would make him happy.
Andrew loved reading and his current passion was Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. He had taken the book, with his father’s permission, from the family library believing it to be an adventure story about the little town that lay in the Catskills. Instead, it turned out to be an exciting story about the English Civil War and with the family away the library was all his, so he planned to read Ivanhoe, by the same author, next.
One stormy Sunday, and co-incidentally Andrew’s birthday, the nanny was called away to Highland to attend to her mother who was dying. She had given Andrew little thought as she assumed the tutor would be on hand and anyway, she needed to travel the fifteen miles south as soon as possible. The tutor was indeed at home, but had confined himself to bed with a severe cold having been warned by Edward that should he ever be ill, he should separate himself from the family at the earliest opportunity. Not wanting to have the parents come home to find young Andrew the subject of a tutorial infection, he had remained in his top floor bedroom.
On the wall of the family library, on the side which was forever in the shadows, there hung several photographs taken of Edward and his hunting trophies. One such photograph was of him on Slide Mountain just after he had ambushed and killed a particularly old deer.
His father had never taken Andrew as far as Slide Mountain, which according to the tutor, was the highest in the Catskills. It had gained its name from a landslide in the early 1800s which had left the mountain with a large wound near its summit. Andrew’s father was always referring to his own elder brother, Charles, as Slide due to the heavy head injury he had picked up at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Andrew decided that since no one was going to ask him, he’d make his own happiness on his birthday and take himself off to Slide Mountain. So on the afternoon of the stormy Sunday, Andrew took some bread and cheese and placed them in an old satchel. He considered taking his birthday present, just in case of wild animals, but decided against it and condemned the rifle to remain in the cellar.
The gentle climb out of Kingston and up towards Hurley was easier than Andrew expected but then he didn’t have the prospect of shooting an animal to look forward to. Once at the top, Andrew could see both Overlook and Slide mountains in all their glorious splendour.
Andrew and his father regularly climbed the trail to Overlook but it was always busy with grown-ups and even more annoying, according to Edward, were the new hotels rising up all over the mountain. So Andrew decided to walk straight on and head towards Slide.
He might be just a kid, but he wasn’t stupid and if there was one thing his father’s hunting trips had taught him was that he had to keep a watch out for wildlife; for his sake and theirs. Copperhead snakes especially as they were mean. He had only gone a further mile or so, when Andrew heard a rustling sound out to his left, he was hoping it wasn’t hunters or Andrew would be in real trouble. He stopped and held his breath and realised that the sound was following him in parallel.
Andrew wanted to cry out but he knew that this would cause more trouble than it was worth, so he decided to be a man and head towards the noise. Whatever it was, this thing was quite large and it sounded in trouble.
Andrew squatted down and slowly pulled back the vegetation, only to see a black bear cub staring straight back at him. They were both very surprised at the sight of each other which caused Andrew to fall flat on his back and although Andrew knew little about bears, he was surprised that the bear didn’t make his attack. Andrew quickly crawled back a few yards and then stood up, it was then he noticed that the bear cub’s leg was stuck fast in a rock crevice and the poor animal couldn’t move.
So one abandoned child decided to help another abandoned child - I mean, he just couldn’t leave the bear out there to die, now could he? His father had told him that if a bear threatened, he should not make any eye contact and to back off as quickly and as quietly as possible but, hey, this was a small bear, just like him.
Andrew found a fallen tree and used it to ease the stone which was holding the cub's leg, just enough that it was able to free its leg and run for a few yards. It then turned and growled which Andrew had assumed was its way of saying ‘thank you’. Except it wasn’t, it was calling on its mother who was approaching.
“Don’t run, don’t make eye contact, don’t run, don’t make eye contact” was all that Andrew kept saying over and over to himself. He backed away towards a sturdy tree which was nearby, and was just about to climb it when a soft voice spoke from behind it.
“Don’t climb the tree” whispered the woman, “you’ll only get yourself trapped, stay perfectly still and look at the ground. Don’t even scratch your nose. If you understand me, breathe a little heavier”
Andrew took a long breath. “Good” whispered the caring voice. “Now don’t be alarmed little one but I’m going to pick you up and run some, only a short distance.”
‘Don’t run, don’t run’ was still going through Andrew’s mind, when all of a sudden two large arms came around the tree and lifted him off his feet. He could hear the bear growling and starting to move towards him. Andrew was almost hanging upside down from the gigantic woman’s arms and he could see the bear closing in when all of a sudden he was in a small room with a door and no windows. The gigantic woman threw Andrew in the corner then placed a large piece of wood across the door. The woman signalled to Andrew to be quiet, which he did to such an extent that he almost stopped breathing.
After a few minutes of listening at the door the woman, relaxed, took a deep breath and whispered “She’s gone” then said “Hi, my name’s Mary”
“Good to meet you Andrew, you sure did have a close one today, someone up there must be looking out for ya. When it’s clear, we can head up back to my cabin and get you cleaned up”
And that is what they did. Mary kept an ever watchful eye out for anything else, as she and Andrew walked to higher ground, arriving at the homely cabin with the smoke coming out of the chimney. In that little hour, Andrew was probably shown more care and love than he’d been shown in all his short life.
The food that Mary served up was easily the tastiest that he had ever put in his mouth, and he loved the way she whistled while she was cooking and serving the meal.
“When we’re done, we can talk about what you were doing up in these woods alone. Ain’t you got a ma and pa?”Andrew nodded that he had and then continued eating.
When he’d finished, Andrew told Mary about his mother and father and their trip to Chicago.
“...And this being your birthday and all? If you was mine, I wouldn’t leave you”
Suddenly Andrew wished Mary was his mother. So he told her about his brothers, the ones who were always away from home, the nanny and her dying mother and the tutor in his room.
“You poor little orphan, you sure is a sad one. Come over here and let Mary hug the life out of you. Come on now.”
So the biggest woman in Andrew’s short life did indeed hug the life out of him, then she set him down by her side, always keeping one arm safely around him, and she told him a story.
“You see Andrew...can I call you Andy?” and the boy nodded “Well Andy, you’re a lot like me, you're one of the others. My mother was one of the others and so was her father”
And she went on to tell Andrew about the others, how a very long time ago there was a land call Atlantis, and in that land lived the good people. These were the ones who created music, poetry, painting, dancing and would express love in so many kind and decent ways.
Because they had not mixed with any other beings, they believed that this was how life was meant to be lived, that each of us should always love and care for one another. But then, and remember this was still a very long time ago, the land of Atlantis arose in steam and fire and the ground below their feet began to break apart. Some swam, others took to the hills while some built small rafts and put to sea. As they looked back from their little boats they could see the land of their home disappear below the waves.
Some of the good and brave survived and reached the lands we know of today but because they did not want to frighten those they had come to know, they dressed and lived as the strangers did. They married and had children - they fell in love with those they lived amongst and through the families they passed on the life force of the Atlantis people.
Not everyone was lucky enough to claim such heritage, but once in a generation a child would appear who had all the properties of Atlantis. They would be kind and loving, although they would be rarely understood. They would go out into the world and although they would be alone, they would do great things because they knew that they were children of Atlantis and they would never forget.
“When I saw you, Andy, I knew straight away you were one of those children”
“For sure, little one”
So Mary took Andrew’s hand and led him back across the valley, up over the ridge and down to the house that was built to be admired.
As for Andrew, he displayed all the goodness that Mary had told him about. When he had finished college as a doctor, he travelled to Africa and looked after the sick and the poor.
And never, for one second, did he ever feel alone again because he knew he was a child of Atlantis and that was a good thing.
bobby stevenson 2013