Chapter 14: In the Wind

Copyright© 2016 by Vincent Berg

A man in worn clothing and a scraggly beard shuffles through the park, observing the other homeless gathered there. Watching one in particular, mumbling to himself for some time, he meanders by.

“Where’d you get the bump on yer head?”

“I ain’t notice nothing,” he said, feeling his skull. “Not unusual, though. Living on the street, you pick up scars.”

“Mind if I check? My sister was a nurse, I ... picked up a few things.”

“Just tell me if’n it looks infected. That’s all I care ‘bout. Infections are a bitch!” The thirty-some year-old black man, whose eyes kept twitching, stood still as the newcomer leaned over him, running his hands over his scalp.

“My name’s Slick. What’s yours?”

“Samuel. You been ‘ere long?”

“No, I drift from one area to another. I just arrived in town a couple days ago.” He paused. “How do you feel? Are the voices still in your head?”

“How do you know abou ... damn, you’re right. They’ve stopped. They’ve been worse the last several weeks. It got so bad, I weren’t sure you was real. What you do?”

“Nothin’. I noticed a peace settle over you. I’ve heard, in rare cases, schizophrenia lessens after so many years. I’m guessing you’ve had it some time?”

“Since my first year of college, when I was forced to drop out. I been driftin’ ever since.”

“Well, you need to be careful, but I suspect you can better manage it. You likely had trouble with medications over the years. If you can get seen again, I think you can get by with a minimal dose. Say only a single low-potency pill a day to hold you over. Once you’re okay for a while, have them stop and observe how you do. Just ensure someone watches over you while you’re experimenting.”

“I don’t know, man, I had trouble in the past. Shrinks don’t like it when you don’t take the full dosage.”

“Part of it is how you speak to them. If you’re thinking clearly, convince them you’ll listen to criticism but want to cut back. Once you do, if you’re stable, you’ll be surprised how receptive they are. Doctors like success more than anything else.”

“How did I go from hearing voices shouting at me one minute, to having nothin’ the next? That don’t make no sense.”

His benefactor chuckled. “Don’t look gift horses in the mouth. Act on your good fortune. As long as you’re clear headed, try getting your life back on track. Reach out to people and get them to watch out for you, so you’ll know if you start to backslide. The best part is, if you don’t, you’ll build trust faster.”

Samuel turned, studying the thin man with a full beard turning gray from his temples through his whiskers. He seemed disheveled, but didn’t appear as confused as most of the park’s denizens. Slick reached in his pocket and handled over a wrinkled business card. “I spoke to this guy. He sometimes does benefit work. Tell him Sarah Cho recommended you. That’ll buy you some leeway when you deal with him. She’s had luck with this sort of thing in the past.”

“I will, but I’m a bit shy of funds.”

The older man smiled, digging in his pocket again. “This is the last of my stash, but I believe in you. If anyone is worth this, I think you are. Take it and don’t glance back. Make something of yourself. If you can make a go of it, it’s an inspiration to us all.”

Samuel flipped through the bills, his brows rising. They were crinkled and worn, as if collected individually and stashed in any available pocket, but they were all fifties and hundreds. “This is some serious cash! Thanks.” Shoving the money in his jeans, he stood and stretched, working his jaw. “Damn, I feel terrific. If there were ever a chance to turn my life around, this is it. Thanks. I know you didn’t do nothin’—aside from the money—but I wouldn’t have the confidence to gamble on myself otherwise.”

“Make us proud, that’s all the payment I expect.”

He walked off, never glancing back. Slick watched him go and considered the other man he’d been studying. Before he could approach, he noticed a younger woman and child entering the park. Glancing around, he moved to a more isolated area where he wouldn’t attract attention.

It didn’t dissuade her as she sought him out. “Pardon me, would you like some lunch?”

The woman’s daughter giggled. “It’s peanut butter, jelly and bananas, like you like.” She leaned closer, jerking back and holding her nose. “You stink!”

Eric laughed. “It’s the clothes. Although I bathe regularly, I keep dirty clothes around to blend in. No one searches for me here, looking like this. Heck, few people even look the homeless in the eyes, and no one studies them long enough to recognize me.”

Leslie handed him a plain paper bag containing a meager lunch, nothing ostentatious enough to attract attention. “I’ve gotten another message from Florida. They’re eager to speak with you.”

Eric sighed as he pulled the sandwich out, examining it with a skeptical eye. “I’ve told you before, they’re not ready. They need to launch a probe first to determine whether there’s anything remaining of the first mission. They also have to locate people who see auras and determine how to record those signals. It won’t give them clear images, but it’s the only way to figure out how to monitor these energy signatures.”

“They’ve done that,” she said. “They want to discuss the results with you. There’s nothing left of your ship. Your theory that it was dissolved proved correct. However, they can’t interpret the data from the new probe.”

He took a bite of the sandwich as he considered it, turning to Becky instead. “How’s school? Doing well in science and math?”

She grinned. “I’d do better if I could drop my Uncle’s name, but no one knows anything about Alice Swindle. Whoever came up with that name?”

“People with connections. If it weren’t for those IDs, we’d never remain hidden.”

“We won’t be for long. We’ll move again and I won’t have time to make friends.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Everyone picks on me.”

Eric opened his arms. “Come here, you’re sounding a little depressed.” She winkled her nose, but did as he asked. “Don’t worry. The smell won’t stick for long.”

He reached up, stroking her hair. “That should help. Your aura is clean. You’re doing better. Although friends are pleasant, you need to learn to make them fast. At some point in the future, you can reach out to whoever befriended you and renew connections.”

“Would you rather live with your dad?” her mother asked, patting her shoulder.

Becky frowned. “No, with his new wife, he doesn’t have time for me. I enjoyed visiting, but I’d prefer staying here, even if I don’t make friends.”

Eric opened his arms. “At least you have me.”

She giggled in return, backing up. “You and your stink!”

He turned to his sister. “Tell them I’ll consider it. I’m curious what they’ve found, but I’m not anticipating much. I’m not eager to be dragged onto the world stage again. I prefer working under the radar, helping one person at a time. I’m making a real difference here.”

“You are, but it’s such a small scale. You’re the most recognized man on the planet. You’re more famous than the president, and you haunt public parks sleeping with newspapers covering your face. That’s no way for an astronaut to live.”

He shot her a glare, glancing around to see if anyone noticed. These discussions were risky enough as it was. They were forced to flee Alaska when three CIA vets attacked him. He’d detected the two men, but almost missed the sniper. When he realized his mistake, taking him out, the others caught up to him. He escaped and no one was seriously injured, but Eric was stabbed and couldn’t visit a hospital to get stitches. Instead they’d driven for the next three days, hoping to escape before anyone picked up their trail.

He took another bite of his sandwich. “It’s terrific seeing you again. I appreciate you sticking by me in these ... difficult circumstances, but I’m learning a lot here. I’m accomplishing more than I did in D.C., and I interact with more people than I did in the northern recesses.”

Leslie shrugged. “It’s hard, but I’m not about to abandon you like Cheryl did.”

Eric smiled. “She hardly abandoned me. She used what I taught her about building your soul and wrote a best-selling book, without dropping my name. She deserved the recognition. She stuck by me for a long time with little reward.”

“Everyone benefits, except you. Your girlfriend, Sarah Cho, is now a recognized expert in rehabilitating mental illnesses, based on what you’ve learned. She’s a celebrity while you’re homeless and living in a public park.”

He stood, glancing around again. “I’ve had famous. You can keep it. I’d rather change lives. Each day, I uncover more about the relationship between human brains and the invisible energy which comprises the soul. This is the only way we’ll learn to communicate with these beings. But we’re attracting attention. I’d better go.”

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