Chapter Twenty

The decision whether or not to accept membership into this odd family did not come instantly after witnessing the giant, mystical Etch-A-Sketch map out an accurate near-future Milky Way blueprint. At that moment in time, I could have gone either way on a different day. The decision, or I should say, the decision not to make a decision, had come about an hour later while I was still trying to find my way home on the motorcycle.

"You probably have a million questions 'bout now," Harry had said.

"Just one right this minute," I had replied. "Where can I smoke a cigarette?"

Outside, while I pulled hard with my lungs and relished the feeling of the nicotine being transported to my blood system while walking silently in small circles at the base of the steps, Harry sat on the top step of six leading up to the front entrance of the mini-castle enjoying a fat cigar with the air of someone who had just hit the jackpot on Wall St. He remained very patient, appearing to savor his cigar and allowing me to inhale my first Winston in record time and quickly light up another, while waiting for me to sort things out first in my own head.

Out here away from the big city lights, in a clearing of the woods next to a lake, the sky was filled with more twinkling stars than I had ever seen in my life. Or maybe I was just looking at them with new eyes, a new respect, a new awe. I picked out Orion in the southwest sky. The stars that made up the belt appeared to wink at me.

After lighting up my second dose of nicotine, I turned to Harry. "What was that stuff you were reading?"

"I was summoning Touher. He is the Immortal, according to the second book we looked at, that is the master of time. Touher was said to have taken the Mayans under his wing, so to speak, teaching them all of their insights into understanding time and making calendars. The sand in Shkarbala and the barrels is also native to the Yucatan."

"What about that stuff about Lucifer?"

"I don't mean to leave ya hanging, John, but that will have to be part of our next lesson. I donít have the energy left to get into that tonight." Harry took in a long pull from his cigar and slowly released the smoke into the night without inhaling it. "I think we should get some rest and continue tomorrow. We have room for you if you would like to stay the night."

"No," I said, without needing to think about it. "Thanks, but I would like to sleep on my own pillow tonight...especially tonight," I added.

"We need you, John. You are one of us," Harry calmly said. "I have so much to tell you to get you up to date and prepared."

"Prepared for what?"

"I donít know yet what your role will be. But you are definitely one of us. Of this I am sure. You carry the shine. You are part of the plan."

"Part of what plan? Whoís plan?" I asked.

"His plan." Harry casually pointed towards the stars. "The Master Plan."

* * * * *

I didnít try to pull any more information out of Harry. He was obviously very tired. I was very overwhelmed and equally as tired. As we said our good-byes and I promised to stop by again for the "rest of the story" tomorrow afternoon after lunch, I proceeded to turn out of the driveway onto Crimson Lane heading the opposite way I had been going when coming in, forgetting that I had entered after a u-turn, and proceeded to travel the wrong direction for forty minutes before turning around. It was during this drive home that I decided not to accept Harry's offer, but at the same time, not to say no, at least not yet. It's not like I had a job to go to. It's not like I had anyone to explain myself or whereabouts to. It's not like I had anything better to do. I wasn't expecting a call from Katelynn for almost a week still so I allowed my curious side to win the argument. I wanted to hear the end of the story. I decided to honor my promise and return for 'lesson two.'

By the time I had found home, just before running out of gas, the questions running amok in my head were feeding off one another, expanding to areas they shouldn't have even been considering, yet refusing to be ignored. Was it really my decision to return or were things already beyond my control, the events to come foretold by ancient prophets or foreseen by the Immortals? Was it coincidence that Dr. James had chosen Benny as one of the test subjects? That Benny had been sick and in that very hospital despite the fact that his home was in Texas? If Dr. Getz had not died when he did, I would not have worried about Katelynn, would not have met Dr. James, Benny, Harry. And of course the biggest unsettling brain buster of them all, Was my accident really an accident? I had no answers, of course, leaving me suddenly unsure of anything, past, present or future. My life had become an open book.

* * * * *

I got out of bed shortly before noon. Hiding out under the covers looking for answers to the questions brought forth from the previous evening's activities was only introducing new unanswerable questions.

In the bathroom, preparing to trim the beard of the stranger in the mirror, I found myself in a brief moment of self-pity and despair, wishing none of this had ever happened, beginning with my stupid decision leading to the accident. The trim turned into a clean shave as I tried to dig down far enough to find a familiar me, the old me. But even with a smooth chin again, I didn't even look like a bald version of me. Whether from the stress surrounding Katelynn and the emotions she had awakened in me or from Harry's performance the previous night, my new face appeared harder than it had been, older, more experienced. I imagined walking back into Al's office and applying for a courier job again, him handing me an application oblivious to who I was. I wouldn't have recognized me myself if there had been more than one image in the mirror.

Obviously I was unable to go back in time while standing in front of the mirror so I directed my thoughts more towards the future and the upcoming 'lesson' with Harry. As much as I wished none of this was being dumped on my doorstep, as much as I wanted to wash and scrub away whatever shine Harry could see embracing me, as much as I had now accepted and even slightly looked forward to just getting this business with Katelynn successfully over with and starting a new life in a new place, I also desperately wanted to see how many of these other mind bending questions Harry could answer before I left.

I briefly considered not returning to the castle just to prove that I was absolutely in control of my own future and destiny. Harry was so sure that I was going to return, so sure that I was going to be a member of his family, part of me wanted to simply forget the entire day ever happened and stick with plan 'A' in regards to Katelynn just to spite him. Just to let him know that no one controlled me but me. Or maybe just to let me know. Who knows? I don't know.

But I did know I had to go back. I had to. I was at least able to convince myself that I had to go back because I wanted to hear the whole story out of genuine curiosity. I couldn't stay away any more than I could put away a good book half read and never open it again. I convinced myself that I was returning because I wanted to. It was far better than even thinking about the alternative.

After throwing together a quick brunch of cereal and warmed up left-over pizza, washed down with lots of orange juice, I hopped on Shadow and took it down for its turn to refuel at the Kwik Trip.

Once again, after purposely passing the drive for number 14 off Crimson Lane, I took the 25 minute scenic route around the lake to re-collect my thoughts and steady the nerves, to settle my stomach. And once again, the iron gate had already begun to slowly swing open as I rounded the final curve out of the woods and I didn't even need to slow my speed as I passed under its threshold. Mr. Valet was once again stepping into the drive to point me in the proper direction and Chancey Doorman was waiting in the open front door this time as I returned to the castle after parking Shadow.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Johnson," he said, all business, no smile, as I approached the top step.

"Hi there," I said, removing my gloves and holding them out for him. I think I almost saw a smile in those dark eyes as he accepted my gloves, but I could have been just being paranoid. Still, I could tell he would have been a tough opponent at the poker table.

"Harry is expecting you, sir. He awaits in the library. He has instructed me to ask if you have eaten."

I liked Chancey. I don't know that he would have liked it if he knew that I liked him, but I got the impression that he was probably a pretty funny guy when not in uniform, when among friends. "Thank you," I said. "But I'm fine. I just ate before I came."

"Very well, sir. Would you like for me to escort you to the library?"

Stifling back the urge to chuckle at the slightly sarcastic tone in his voice, I told him I could find my own way, thanks. He went one way, I went the other, through the piano parlor, around the dining room table, and found Harry sitting in the couch before the fireplace reading from a thin, newer looking journal.

"John, good to see you," Harry said, looking up from his reading as I stepped into the circle of couches. He closed the book without saving his place, set it on the couch next to him and struggled a quick moment to stand and shake my hand before sitting back down again. I glanced at my feet when our hands clasped and turned and sat in the couch Randi had been in the night before to better face him while we talked.

This afternoon the fire had been extinguished. The sunny day made the room bright and comfortably warm. The bushes and shrubbery gave the air of the library a feeling of freshness. Harry was much more sensibly dressed in a white T-shirt, an open denim jacket and blue jeans. The Dragons still watched and listened from the wall directly over us and the bear at my feet still snarled up in anger, but this time not directed at me from where I sat.

"So how ya feelin' this mornin'? Manage to get any sleep last night?" Harry asked me after I had settled into the overstuffed, extremely comfortable corner of the couch.

"Surprisingly enough, I did," I confessed. I may have been thoroughly overwhelmed with stimuli and still feeling slightly numb from all the information and revelations that had been hurled at me the day before, and today might even only make things worse, but I was going into it well rested and alert.

Harry repeated Chanceyís offer for food which I again declined.

"What is todayís lesson?" I had asked him, anxious to get started after we got through the opening pleasantries.

"History," Harry said, picking up the journal he had laid next to him when I had come in. "This is one of the journalís that Pauly is putting together. Since much of what historians commonly accept as proper translations of old scripts and hieroglyphics is actually wrong, Paul has been keeping journals on what he discovers through his own translations."

"And you are convinced that Paulís interpretations are right and the rest of the world is wrong," I interrupted. This was still a fact I was having a hard time accepting.

"I am," Harry said without hesitation. "It is more like an alteration in the wording of the translation that Paul uses. The accepted versions are not far off, but that slight alteration changes the entire meaning of most writings. Now take into the fact that Pauly was never taught to translate the stuff. He just knew what it said even as a kid, as though he had been taught it, maybe from a previous life."

Uh-oh. Already another warning alarm went off in my head as his words made themselves at home and our lesson hadnĎt even begun yet. My brain quickly replayed his last statement and judged yes, it was true, Harry had just mentioned the phrase, "...a previous life."

There are a lot of things I believe in that I have never seen or experienced in my life. There are also things that I have never seen that I am willing to believe in if ever given even a smidgen of solid proof. Then there are basically three things that I would have a hard time believing even if the proof were right in front of my stubborn nose.

History had always been part of that first group. I hadnít been there to witness it, but I believed most of what the text books had taught me growing up.

The second group contained what I had always considered "the fun stuff." UFOís and aliens, ESP, Big Foot, Loch Ness, etc. Some I believed more possible than others, but things like this I was certainly willing to believe if anyone could ever come up with one concrete bit of proof. The mystical sandbox from the previous night had been that proof for something, I just wasnít sure yet what it was that it had proved.

The final group, the Big Three, the concepts that I can not even slightly accept as real or even give a hint of plausibility to are Time Travel, One Supreme Being, and Reincarnation.

I had already allowed Harry to get away with bringing God into his story. Sorting things out while laying in bed, I had already moved Harryís version of God out of the third group, as the one supreme being who created the universe and everything in it in six days and then rested on the seventh, and into the second group, as an alien who happens to go by the name of God. The immortal stuff was a little far-fetched, of course, but it could possibly squeeze into group two. Thereís a whole universe of the unknown out there. But now Harry had just brought reincarnation into his story. One of the major no-can-doís.

"I donít believe in reincarnation?" I tossed out there, not really caring if he responded to the comment or not, just to let him know where I stand on that particular subject.

"I didnít say he learned it in a previous life. I said from a previous life."

"Whatís the difference?" I asked.

"Itís just a theory, but it might explain Paulyís gift. Itís kinda like inherited memory. Like deja vu. We inherit all sorts of stuff from our parents and ancestors. Baldness, hair and skin color, eye color, body types, weaknesses or strengths against certain diseases, even fears and certain moods and emotions can be passed along within the gene pool...the list is endless. Some genes skip generations like giving birth to twins or being left-handed. Others may lay dormant for several generations, rarely, if ever, resurfacing on down their bloodline. But memory can also be passed along. You feel you have been somewhere before when you know you never have, maybe your parents were. Or their parents.

"Someone in Paulyís bloodline probably learned to read hieroglyphics and ancient scripts. Possibly someone in Paulyís bloodline used to write hieroglyphics and stuff some three thousand years ago. The knowledge always there ever since but laying dormant or undiscovered until resurfacing in Paul."

"Why Paul?" I asked. "Why not Paulís father or son or brother or all of them?"

"Thatís a good question," Harry said, clearly enjoying his current teaching job. "I confess I donít have all the answers. For now, for our purpose, weíll consider it good fortune or luck of the draw. But there is another possibility that I am sure we will be discussing at a later time and in a larger group for more opinions.

"But if it matters, John, I donít believe in reincarnation either. But I do believe in inherited memory."

Thatíll work. I could safely move that into the second group. Reincarnation and God as the one supreme being, two of the three big no-way-no-howís, had managed to remain where they belonged through Harryís interpretations of events. I was sure time travel would not even come into play so I was now ready to give Harryís story a chance. I only interrupted once more a moment later when I asked if he knew if there was still any Mountain Dew left over. He led me to the kitchen, through the door that had been behind Randi during dinner, and to the walk-in refrigerator where several cases of twenty ounce bottles of Dew were being kept chilled. No other soft drinks, just Dew. Harry snapped one off a plastic ring and handed it to me. I decided not to ask why they happen to have so much Dew in their walk-in refrigerator. I wasnít sure Iíd like the answer.

I silently followed Harry back to the library and for the next two hours, obediently paid attention to the history lesson Harry wanted to teach.

Neither Harry nor Chancey Doorman had even mentioned that my full beard had disappeared.

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty-One


Michael

Front Desk

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The Master Plan

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter Twenty-One
Chapter Twenty-Two
Chapter Twenty-Three
Chapter Tweny-Four
Chapter Twenty-Five
Chapter Twenty-Six
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Chapter Twenty-Nine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter Thirty-One
Chapter Thirty-Two
Chapter Thirty-Three
Chapter Thirty-Four
Chapter Thirty-Five
Chapter Thirty-Six
Chapter Thirty-Seven
Chapter Thirty-Eight
Chapter Thirty-Nine
Epilogue