Chapter 1: The Fall
Hindsight is 20/20, so they say. Trust me, 'they' have no idea how true that is.
My name is Sam Kendall, and I was 60 years old when my first life ended. It should have been no surprise. I was a candidate for a heart attack and had been for years. I was sedentary, overweight and fighting off high blood pressure, the onset of diabetes and high levels of cholesterol; fighting and loosing. The trend had my doctor nagging at me every time I saw her.
Even then, I might have lived if I hadn't been alone and out in the country where no one would normally expect to find me. I'd been having one of those 'detached' days, where I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. The kind of days where you want to stare up at the stars and imagine yourself free of your bills, and your aches and pains, free of your own thoughts even. Safely an uncounted infinity of soft layers apart from everything. It was a familiar feeling. One I'd gone through many times over the years, and a feeling I didn't like to share, so I went for a drive after work, out into the hills and down the old dirt road that ran along Sheep Creek.
It was late in the summer, and the skies were clear, with the stars showing as bright points in the early darkness. The moon was a glow behind the nearest hill, promising to brighten the valley in a few hours with its light.
I almost wished there were snow on the ground. I remembered hunting in this valley with my father, before he died. I remembered how the valley looked, covered in snow and bathed in the full moon's glow.
The memories brought me back a little ways from my detached feeling, and I got back in the car and headed home, and I might have lived even then, but I hadn't gone ten feet when I could feel it. I had a flat tire!
I hadn't had to change my own flat tire in a few years, and the particular tire that went flat? Never. Wrestling the spare out from under the back of the truck, and getting the jack in place, I began cranking, sweating already, and anticipating how tightly the nuts were going to be on the wheel, and how hard to get off. I was right too. Damn those nuts were on there! Probably had been air-gunned on at the factory, or the shop in back of the used car dealer where I'd bought her.
I didn't know shit about cars, and hadn't been able to afford a new one since my early adult years when I was still single and working a good paying job and long hours. I bought used cars and ran them into the ground before I moved on to the next one. This truck had actually lasted a lot longer than the average. I was going to miss it when it was time for it to go.
The first pain hit me then, and dropped me like I'd been clubbed. I fell back against the side of the truck in a sitting position, and could feel myself trying to catch my breath around the pain, but I couldn't do it. I heard myself breathing, short little gasping breaths, but I couldn't seem to feel the air reaching my lungs, and as the edges of my world began to fade into unconsciousness, my last thought was of the damned truck, and how for the first time I would be the one going.
I wondered about the afterlife, and thought of Patrick Swayze and pottery wheels. Well sort of. When I realized that the fading consciousness that was me, in my dying body was being echoed by a blossoming consciousness outside that dying body, somewhere in front of the truck and above my now empty body, I regained a sense of myself and of consciousness, and felt myself being pulled somewhere, and at the same time came a desire to move up and out, towards those brightly shining stars that seemed so much more brilliant and burning now; but I was being pulled, pulled hard, away from my own death. Patrick Swayze my ass.
I didn't know at the time, but I was being drawn back through time. Unlike the old 'Time Machine' movie from the 60's, I didn't see images of the past flashing before my eyes. I just fell backwards into infinity, a quiet rushing emptiness without form or definition.
Except ... There were bumps, moments of resistance, where I felt some sort of energy build up before I seemed to absorb it into myself, breaking through the resistance and I was moving again.
So it went, bump, bump, bump, bump, and a fleeting picture with each of them, of some scene that I should have remembered, if they were scenes from my past, but my mind wasn't my own at the moment, and then once again, or perhaps at last, blessed darkness.
"Hey Sammy!" A voice called. I opened my eyes and saw the sun shining in a blue sky, a grassy sloping lawn with a row of cars lined up on the road in front of it. It looked familiar somehow, but I wasn't sure why. "What?" I answered automatically. Nobody ever called me Sammy anymore.
"Wake up dude! Your Mom's here," the voice said. I looked over, and saw a strangely familiar face attached to a boy's body. "You must've really been zonked out buddy. You act like you don't know where the heck you are. You act like its the first day of school not the last, c'mon summer's here!"
The boy waved an arm behind us, and I glanced back at the building behind us. I recognized it immediately. Cold Lake Combined School.
The moment I recognized the building, I remembered who the skinny kid next to me was. Benny Argus. I hadn't thought of Benny in years.
It took perhaps another couple heartbeats for me to ask myself, if this was the junior high school Benny, then what was I?
"Sammy!" I heard from the street, my mom's voice like I barely remembered it.
"Coming!" I hollered back. "See ya later Benny."
"Later," Benny said with a wave.
I ran down the grassy hill headed for mom's car. I almost stumbled then, because the car fixed things even more firmly in my head. Mom had gotten her driver's license, and Dad's used 1956 Chevy 210 sedan in the winter of 1961 when he had bought himself a 'new-last-year' 1960 Chevy K-10 pickup truck. He used a similar four wheel drive rig for work, as he was spending more and more time traveling dirt roads and mountain trails for the State of Oregon. He liked the four wheel drive, so decided that's what he would drive.
What fixed it in my mind that this had to be the start of the summer of 1961 was mom picking me up from school. She only did it a few times, right after she got her license, and just as eighth grade was getting over. By the time I started high school, the novelty had worn off, I was being an ass, and the school bus went right past our house.
I jumped into the front seat with mom and reached over and gave her a big hug. I had tears in my eyes and images of the cold, wet
December day when I had stood at her funeral in my head.
"Well, I don't know what that's all about Samuel!"
"Just glad to see you, mom," I answered, looking back out the window so she wouldn't see my tears.
"I certainly want to see those tears gone by the time we get to Nileson's."
Nileson's? I sat there staring out the window, panicked as I tried to remember what she was talking about. I tried to remember back to the first time I'd finished the eighth grade, not expecting much. Those years and the ones in between were nothing but a blur to me.
While I sat staring off, I felt an echo of the 'bumping' I'd felt somewhere during the journey, and I felt things come into focus, just a little. What had happened the last time I'd gotten into this car on the last day of eighth grade?
It came to me then. We'd driven over to Nileson's Mercantile & Feed. Mom had lined me up a summer job.
Oh man did I remember it now! This moment coming up was my first major act of rebellion against my mom, and by extension, dad too. I refused the work, in protest over not having been consulted, and I continued to protest over the summer and into ninth grade. I refused to work, I refused to participate in pretty much everything, even the stuff I enjoyed. I spent the summer sitting in my room reading.
It was the beginnings of my sedentary life, and by the time high school started, it had become habit and routine. It lost me good friends like Benny, who to be honest, stuck with me through everything, even when I didn't acknowledge it.
By the time we pulled into Nileson's, I was determined not to make the same mistake this time around, assuming I was going to be here long enough to have an impact.
Mr. Nileson had two sons who had worked at the Mercantile & Feed; Peter, the older of the two was in college now and not coming home this summer while he did some traveling. That left an opening for someone, and that someone, according to the plan, was going to be me. I guessed I'd be working with Brian, the younger son who was a sophomore in high school. There was a sister too, Belinda, I think, who was a senior, but I didn't know if she worked at the store or not.
I was big for my age, not a physical specimen or anything, but I wasn't a toothpick like my friend Benny Argus either. I was going to be fourteen in August and I was already 5 feet 10 inches. Taller than my dad by an inch. Mom was tall too, for a woman of her day, and I had topped out at six-two in adulthood.
"Sammy, I think you're going to do well working for me," Mr. Nileson began when we shook hands. "I won't lie to you though, some of its going to be pretty physical work. But I won't let Brian wear you down, and if you think he's being to tough on you, you let me know, you hear?"
"Yes sir," I answered.
"Your mom says you have a bike, and can ride it to work and home."
"Yes sir. Its not that far from home to here. I could even walk," I suggested.
"You should ride the bike to start with Sammy," Mom suggested. "Until you see how tired you are going to be at the end of the day."
I nodded, my only response, and this was followed by a quick tour of the store, the feed sheds and the equipment yards out back. Brian was in High School in Hermiston, which meant it would be a close call to see which of us got to work first every day. They got out earlier than we did, but he had a bus ride. Maybe a car ride if he was driving. I wasn't sure, maybe his sister was driving. Like I said, I didn't know to much about the Nilesons.
The tour was more to reassure my mom, I think, than it was to orient me.
"You'll start on Friday at nine o'clock, okay Sammy?" Mr. Nileson told me as we walked back to the car. "Brian still has two more days of high school. When he can be here to work with you, you can start."
Great, I actually would get a couple of days to do nothing, or as much nothing as I could stomach. I was still of two minds on that subject.
On the ride home, mom offered me a little reassurance.
"I'll be home the first week. You can call for a ride home at the end of the day if you're too tired."
I again felt as if my ability to at least feign normality was threatened again when Ned lifted his head from the porch and came bounding my way. Without even thinking, I raised my left hand to my side and up above my head and let him leap up to butt his head against my palm.
To hell with getting my life back, I had my dog back! I sat down on the porch and buried my face in Ned's neck. Ned leaned into me in return, and I could feel the stored up warmth of the afternoon in his fur.
Ned is a Gordon Setter, and I got him for Christmas in 1954. I had just seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a few days earlier, and when I got him as my Christmas present, I had to name him after the swashbuckling Ned Land. He had been a handful as a puppy, but had grown up to be a calm, loyal friend. He too had been a victim of my rebellion, and when I began refusing to take him for his daily exercise, dad had no choice but to give him away to another family. Not this time damn it!
I went into the house with some trepidation. I remembered well enough where my bedroom was, and where things were in general, but I didn't think I'd pass muster if someone asked me to fetch a broom, or any other of a hundred mundane things that I knew would be here, but which in my mind were decades beyond being even a dim memory.
My room was a safe start, and Mom's hollered instructions to get out of my school clothes before I went anywhere gave me a purpose, so I went running up the stairs to my room to change. At the top of the stairs I had to stop and marvel for a moment at the concept of running up stairs.
My room was as I remembered it, but in a strangely idealized sense. The dresser, the bed, the closet, everything was as I remembered it, which was a rose-colored set of memories, because I also remembered the dark pit it became during high school at the height of my rebellion.
I changed clothes, taking off the newer black Lee jeans that had come from this year's trip through the Sears winter catalog and slipping on a pair of denim Levis. I also took off the newer plaid long sleeved shirt I wore and replaced it with an older short sleeved shirt. Shoes were another story, if it wasn't raining, or go-to-church Sunday, I was in my Red Ball Jets. I'd lucked out this year and gotten my shoes while on a trip to Portland, rather than out of the catalog, and the Red Balls were the shoe every kid demanded, and where I lived at least, seldom got.
During the change into my 'play' clothes, I'd taken the opportunity to take a good look at the thirteen year old Sam Kendall body I only vaguely remembered. I didn't remember it that well, except for the recollections I had of not being fat at this age. I wasn't exactly in shape, but I wasn't even pudgy yet. Being tall for my age, I seemed all leg and arm.
Puberty hadn't hit me yet, and wasn't due to for another year if things followed the course of my last life. I remembered the embarrassment of Freshman year, being one of only a couple unfortunate boys who hadn't been hit by the change, and having to shower our immature, hairless bodies in amongst the others. It was another of those memories of growing up that I did not look back on fondly. Unfortunately, it was one I wasn't going to be able to do anything about. I touched my immature cock and felt a little tingle. 'Well, at least things appear to be in working order', I thought to myself.
Clothes changed, I ran back down the stairs, smiling at Mom's yell to slow down. I entered the kitchen at a more sedate pace and began nosing around for a snack.
"Sammy, there are apples in the bin, or else you can make yourself a sandwich," Mom suggested.
I grabbed an apple and headed out to the porch where Ned was waiting for me. He sat patiently watching me eat my apple, which was warm and juicy, far different than my recent memories of apples which had been store-bought, refrigerated and with a sharp, acidic bite to them. Those 'recent' memories were from almost fifty years in the future. Forget them for now. I was either dead, dreaming, or I was truly back in 1961.
Once I'd finished the apple, I let Ned lead me wherever he expected us to go. I trusted his memories of what I should do next far more than my own. He led me down the road, and we hadn't gone a hundred yards when I realized we were headed towards Willow Creek.
Willow Creek was the natural leftover that remained after Cold Lake had been dammed up and made into the Cold Lake Reservoir. It was a small creek, and placid, running pretty slowly between the reservoir and the Columbia river. The creek meandered pretty good, going a lot further than the four miles that was the as-the-crow-flies distance, but it only got steep and fast when it got close to the Columbia. In our neighborhood it was a slow and lazy stream, with pockets and pools of water here and there shaded by willows growing along the banks.
We ran a good mile, Ned and me, until we got to 'the spot'. It was a small pool, too shallow at one end for a good swimming hole, but deep enough at the other end to make a good place to wash off the heat of the summer. Ned headed straight for the water as soon as we got there. He was supposed to be a gun dog, not a water dog, but nobody had ever told him that. He loved the water. I'd left his ball at home, not remembering its existence until that moment, but glad, knowing that he'd loose it in the water, and that with Ned's canine sized holes chewed in it, it would have sunk to the bottom.
Ned splashed and played on his own for a suitable amount of time and then searched for and found a suitable stick to bring me. It was a good one, thick as my wrist and a foot long, smooth, hard and dry. I tossed it across the pool and high up the opposite bank, and as I watched Ned go chasing after it, I stood, awash in memories and emotions.
Ned and I had been playing for a half an hour or so when I heard a holler from down the creek. I turned to look and saw Benny waving and running my way. I waved back and waited for him.
"Here you are! Geez, I stopped by your house but your mom said you had taken off. You were supposed to meet me at Harwell's, remember? What happened?"
My brain spun, trying to think of what to say.
"Man! Sorry Benny. Mom took me over to Nileson's after school. I've got a job there starting Friday morning. After that, everything else kinda flew out of my head."
"A job? That's cool, I guess. I'm going to have to start working for my dad pretty soon too. I was hoping to hold off on it for a while, but if you're working, I might as well start right away."
Benny plopped down beside me as we both waited for Ned to return. Benny's folks wouldn't let him have a dog, so Ned was unofficially his other boy. In fact Ned brought his stick straight to Benny and Benny was soon getting his turn at throwing the stick.
Mr. Argus, Benny's dad, owned and operated the local newspaper, the Cold Lake Clarion. It only published three days a week, and Mr. Argus was also the local distributor for the Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer — what we just called 'the P.I.'. He slipped a local advertising insert into their Sunday editions, and also did a lot of flyers and posters for local events. Benny was going to work for his dad, and take over the business someday. Benny, not his older brother Julian, who was going to die in Vietnam in just a few years.
I sat blinking back the tears over that memory, and Benny caught the emotion on my face.
"What?" He asked.
"Just thinking," I stalled. "We're going to be in high school next year."
"Yeah." Benny responded with a sigh.
"We're going to be able to hang out at the swimming hole with the other high school kids," I said out loud, realizing it almost as I said it.
"The grubs are going to get control of the spot," Benny moaned.
The grubs were our name for a bunch of younger kids who hung out at the spot whenever we weren't using it. We lay on the bank of the creek, soaking in the sun and mourning the loss of our 'spot', sacrificed to the future.
Neither Benny or I had a watch, but Ned had a built in meal tracking system, and when he decided it was time to go, we both knew we should head for home. We chased Ned down to the road and then I walked with Benny as he walked his bike back up to the road. We split up when he took off on the bike down Burnside Road, headed for home. Ned and I continued on up Lacker Road to my house.
Dinner was just leftover meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I sweated through the mealtime conversation, wondering if I was going to slip up somehow, and praying it was an if and not a when.
"I forget, when is Dad getting back?" I asked. I knew he must be traveling, as he did a lot of it, but I had no clue what the current schedule was. I seemed to be benefiting from a pretty good dose of clarity about some things since my return, but those memories were almost a half century old for me.
"Friday," Mom answered. "He'll be home before you get done with your first day of work."
"Great," I responded. School was out, and the memorial weekend was coming up. We usually did something as a family over that long weekend, but I had no idea what the plan was for this year.
"Did Benny find you?" Mom asked.
"Yeah, I was supposed to meet him at Harwell's after school, but the surprise you sprung on me at Nileson's had me so busy thinking about Friday that I completely forgot."
"Was he disappointed to hear you would be working all summer?"
"Not really. He's going to be working for his dad too, so we're both resigned to catching each other in the evenings or on weekends."
"What about Carrie?"
"Don't know yet," I answered through a bite of meatloaf. "I would have normally talked to her on the way home from school." Which was my one last little dig at her for the whole springing-a-job thing, and I smiled to let her know it wasn't a serious dig.
Carrie Ralston was my second closest friend, after Benny, and she lived closer, so I actually saw her more often than I did Benny.
I remember deciding when I was ten that I liked girls, and that I was no longer going to dismiss them out of hand as potential friends and playmates. This met with some resistance from Benny at first, but since this mostly meant including Carrie back into our activities, a place she had held when we were all younger, it didn't take too long for him to make the shift with me.
It certainly helped that by the time she was twelve, Carrie was a certified cutie. I may not have hit puberty yet at this age, either this time or the first time, but I didn't then, and wasn't planning now, on letting that get in the way of appreciating Carrie. I may not have yet been marked by the passing of puberty, but Carrie had, and gloriously.
This gave me an agenda for my time between dinner and bedtime, so as soon as I'd done my chores and gotten washed up, I headed up the road to the Ralston's. Their house was only a block away, or what would have been a block if we lived closer to town where there were cross streets and houses on every lot. The only things between our two houses were a couple of empty lots and Mr. Garrison's house. Mr. Garrison was a widower, and a bit of an eccentric, which had made him the bogeyman when we were little, but he turned out to be nice enough once we got over our fears and talked to him.
Burt Thompson was visiting when I got to Carrie's house. Burt was already in high school and a grade ahead of Carrie, Benny and me.
"Hi Sammy!" Carrie called from the porch as I ran up.
"Go away kid, we're busy," Burt said, completely serious, and with a look that suggested he was definitely not kidding.
"Stop it!" Carrie ordered. "We are not too busy."
"What's up Sammy? Why weren't you on the bus today?"
"My mom picked me up," I explained. "I thought she was just still showing off her car, but she took me down to Nileson's. I'm going to be working there all summer."
"Does Benny know?" Carrie asked.
"He does now."
Burt was getting increasingly aggravated at being left out of this conversation.
"This is stupid!" he said forcefully, shouldering his way past me down the steps. "Carrie, when you decide you want to stop hanging around with babies, give me a call."
He peeled off on his bike, a Schwinn Tornado, just like mine except for the color. He was trying to spit up a patch of gravel as he did, but mostly he hopped the back tire up in the air a few times before getting up some speed.
"Funny that he's the man and I'm the baby, and we both ride exactly the same bike." I commented.
"Oh please!" Carrie moaned. "If I want to hang around with babies, Burt Thompson would be near the top of the list."
Carrie and I sat on her porch for about an hour, getting caught up on things. We already knew what most of the summer plans were — or at least I was supposed to know. I had to try a weak 'remind me again of what your plans are?' gambit, but it worked. The halting, awkward nature of the conversation had more to do with the memories I had of Carrie from our first life, and the slow distancing and dimming our friendship endured. I kept having to shake those visions off to see the Carrie in front of me.
Carrie reminded me that she was going back east for the summer to spend some time on her Uncle Elias' farm in Indiana. They would be leaving a week after memorial day and not coming back until just before school started.
"It all kind of works out," I decided out loud. "You'll be gone, and Benny and I will both be working."
"Benny's working too?"
"Yeah, he said his dad's been asking, and now that I'm working, he figures he might as well."
"It'll be good. At least you guys will have money to spend when school starts. I won't be working at all, except farm chores."
"I don't know about pocket money," I complained. "Mom didn't tell me she had a job lined up for me, and she hasn't told me what my plans are for the money I'll be making. In fact that was the one thing Mr. Nileson didn't think to mention. I have no idea how much he's paying me!"
Carrie laughed at that, and I suddenly remembered how much I enjoyed making Carrie laugh. Her smile was more spectacular than a sunset.
We made arrangements to meet the next day at The Spot, each of us promising to bring whoever we could scrape up to be there by eleven. I waved goodbye and began the dash home.
I got home and used one of my precious weekly phone calls to call Benny and let him know what was up for tomorrow.
"Okay, I'm your man," Benny told me. "Come over first thing in the morning."
I spent a few minutes visiting with mom after hanging up with Benny, and then Mom nodded towards the stairs, "Measurement time."
It was the last day of school. I had a very traditional marking spot on the door jam of my bedroom where my growth was recorded, three times a year. Beginning of school, Christmas day and the last day of school. Before I could get cleaned up and ready for bed, I had to stand against the door while Mom marked off a new line on the door with a pencil. "A half an inch since Christmas!" Mom told me.
I had managed to outgrow 'bath time' before bed when I was ten, and had been allowed to take a shower in the morning. This was usually fine because I was normally up well after dad when he was home, and he was my main competition for the shower in the morning. Mom still preferred her baths, and the bathroom with the big tub was in their room and the bathroom with the shower was downstairs.
It seemed I had been running on autopilot most of the day, bouncing from moment to moment on barely-there memories, patience and subtle questions here and there. I wasn't surprised at all when I plopped down to make my bedtime prayer, still on autopilot. God and prayer were a big part of our family, even if the local church frowned a bit on mom's 'forward' nature.
I did stop and think for a moment, there on my knees. I'd outgrown the need for a bedtime prayer pretty quickly in the first life. But if ever there was proof that there was something bigger than all of us pulling the strings, I was it. The only thing that kept me from it was, I wasn't sure what the heck to pray for!
In the end I closed my eyes, bent my head and sent off a quick 'thank you, and I'll pray better tomorrow'.
Later that night as I lay on my oh so familiar bed in my utterly familiar room, wearing my utterly familiar but long forgotten 13 year old body, I wondered whether I would wake up in the morning. I wondered where I would wake up, or more precisely, when. Was this a dying man's dream, or a Frank Kapra version of the old 'my life flashed in front of my eyes'?
Only tomorrow would tell, and sleep drew me there.