Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Sphere - short stories online

“IVIr. Douglass, I believe the best answer is the Civil War.” “That is correct, Jill,” Mr. Douglass stated while looking at his semi-attentive high school history class. Suddenly, the bell sounded and almost immediately the classroom came alive with movement. “Now remember, read pages 200-215 in your textbook for tomorrow and there is a quiz on Friday,” Mr. Douglass attempted to remind his class over their hustle and bustle to get out the door. The class moaned simultaneously at the mention of the quiz. Without delay, the room quickly emptied as the teenagers left for home for the thy. Jim Douglass had been teaching history for over 25 years. He loved it even though sometimes his classroom was somewhat less than enthusiastic about it. Slowly he put his things in his big black leather bag almost sad that the thy was over. Some days are better than others at Monticello High, but tothy Jim felt as though he had actually made a difference. After a quick stop at the bathroom, Jim shuffled out to the employee parking lot to his car and got in. The old rusty Toyota Corolla was on its last leg, but it got him around with a fair consistency. He headed to his house stopping by the grocery on the way home to pick up a few things. The grocer at the small country stop knew Jim by his first name and greeted him as he left following his nomial daily routine. Jim was set in his ways, a man of 53 years, and did not care too much for big cities. His country home was small and cozy. He lived alone having never married, although he almost did once in his youth. Jim’s car cmnched through the stones as he coasted into the gravel driveway of his familiar home. While nothing seemed as though it was out of place, Jim sensed that something was terribly wrong. He was unable to pinpoint anything specifically, but had an overwhelming unexplainable feeling. He quickly grabbed his single bag of groceries from the front passenger seat and opened his car door stepping out. While walking up to his front door, he clumsily fumbled his keys and they chinked down to his cement steps. The uneasy feeling grew as he walked in and sat down his bags. Looking around, he saw that nothing was out of place. A small red LED flashing on and off begged Jim to press the button on his answering machine, but he was not thinking that the feeling might be because of a message needing his attention. After settling down in his EZ chair and taking a deep breath, Jim finally noticed the little light blinking. “Well, looks like I have a message,” Jim said, struggling out of the rear end engulfing chair. Pressing the button finally let the machine speak after a shrill tone. “Jim, it is Nancy. I am at the General Hospital near Mom’s house,” his sister’s voice said while holding back tears. “Mom has had a stroke.” Jim sank back into his chair in disbelief as his sister’s words rang in his head. “She was in a coma all morning.” Nancy’s voice was quivering as she tried to stop sniffles that had surfaced. “She passed away just a few minutes ago.” Nancy burst out in tears on the tape. She composed herself just long enough to give a phone number where she could be reached and then continued to cry before hanging up and ending the message. Tears began to well up in Jim’s eyes as he stared into space. His father had died two years ago of cancer, but as far as he knew, his mother was still perfectly healthy. He had just made the two hour trip to his hometown last month to visit his mother. She seemed fine then. Jim could not believe she was gone. Memories of his mother flooded his mind as he slumped deeper in his chair and began to sob like a little boy. He grabbed the nearby phone and called the number his sister left after later coming out of his daze. A nurse answered his request and called Nancy to the telephone. “Oh Jim, I can’t believe she is gone,” Nancy sobbed. “Can you come to Mom’s house right now?” “Of course, I’ll get my things together and meet you there at 7pm.” The two were both crying by the time they had hung up. Jim called the school and arranged for a substitute to take over his class for a week. Then he packed a small suitcase and left for his mother’s house in Springfield. The trip seemed to drag on forever as his mother’s memoiy lingered in the air. Finally, he arrived at his boyhood home. His sister’s car was parked in the driveway. He strolled past it in a dazed hurry, almost knocking off the side mirror as his mind was elsewhere. His sister greeted him at the door and gave him a warm hug while beginning to openly weep. “When is the funeral?” Jim asked. “Saturday, at Golden Meadows Funeral Home.” The two sat and talked for hours about their late mother and all of their wonderful memories of her. Eventually, they both felt somewhat better about the sudden death and began to talk about what to do with her house. “I suppose we could sell it,” suggested Jim. “I mean, you have a family and your own house and don’t need this one. I have a job and a house that is over two hours drive from here so I don’t need it either. I don’t think Mom had a will or anything. Do you know if she had a will?” “I don’t think so, Jim. Not that I know of” “I am going to spend the day tomorrow looking through the house to see if I can find anything.” “Let’s get some rest it has been a rough day.” The two retired for the night in their old beds that they used to sleep in when they lived at home. The next day Jim began his search early through his mother’s paper’s and possessions looking for some kind of will. After spending the entire morning looking through a small filing cabinet and finding nothing but old bills and somewhat useless information, he expanded his search. Another two hours later he had gone through all of the closets of the house finding only items of marginal interest and not the will that he was looking for. He began thinking to himself that it was perhaps a longshot, but it may be in the attic. Jim climbed the steep ladder into the creaky old attic. There were lots of things up there, from old baby beds to Christmas decorations of all sorts. Most of the junk up there was essentially useless. After a quick initial search, Jim noticed an old trunk sitting in the corner of the attic that was covered in dust. It appeared to be a very old wooden trunk that Jim did not remember ever seeing in the attic before. It had a rusty old padlock on the hasp. Curious to know what the old trunk could possibly contain, Jim began a search for a key. No luck. No key could be found anywhere in the house. Eventually giving up the search, he found a crowbar. Then Jim popped off the old lock with ease. The trunk creaked and moaned like it was asking for oil as Jim slowly raised the lid. Many small treasures of old sat within: old newspaper clippings from the turn of the century, several pieces of old jewelry, a small stack of old magazines, an old Colt 1911 .45 auto with two magazines that was probably from WWII, and a small gray shoebox size metal box. The small box intrigued Jim and as he picked it up he noticed how light it was. He could not quite make out what kind of metal the box was made from. It had a luster that he had never seen before. He flipped the box over searching for an opening without luck. There were no visible seams on the strange rectangular box that he could see. In fact, the box was so strange that Jim decided he would keep it and perhaps later he could figure out what it was. After searching through the rest of the attic, Jim gave up, figuring that his mother had not left a will after all. However, he did take the strange box down the ladder with him just before he closed up the attic. His sister was on the phone talking with relatives bout the upcoming funeral. Jim placed the small metal box in front of her and gave her a puzzled look. Nancy picked up the box and looked it over. She returned the puzzled look to her brother. Next, Jim brought the box to his car and put it in his trunk as his sister continued the conversation on the phone. For the time being, Jim forgot about the strange box and focused on the funeral at hand. After the funeral was over, Jim returned to his house and to work. Trying to forget about the death he poured himself into his class. Several weeks later Jim found the box in his trunk while searching for some tools and brought it in his house to examine it further. He placed it on his kitchen table ascertaining what to do next. Again he searched the box far any openings — none, no seams — nothing. He began to press in finnly all over the box figuring it may have some sort of trap opening. Quite by accident, while holding it against his body and pressing all four corners on one side, Jim heard a ‘click’. He set the box on the table and noticed that a top had formed from a seemingly seamless area of the side. Jim pulled the top off slowly and stared at its contents. The box contained a red velvet-like insert that surrounded a shiny metallic ball in the center. It was about as big around as a softball was and was quite amazing in appearance. “Now what the heck is this thing?” Jim thought as he reached to touch the strange sphere. As soon as his hand got near the ball, it suddenly lifted out of its case and began to hover in mid-air near the table. Jim was astonished and backed up with his eyes gaping and mouth open in amazement. “Great Scott!” Jim shouted staring in fear at the floating device. He did not know what to do next. The ball continued to float about a foot from the table surface with no attachments or strings holding it up. Jim thought about calling the police but decided not to because they would think he was crazy. Suddenly, Jim’s T. V. turned on for no apparent reason with the sound blasting loudly. Then his microwave turned on all by itself Jim was getting scared now and wondered how to turn the bizarre sphere off. He reached for the strange object and as he did, his hand began to tingle. He recoiled away from it immediately. Looking at his hand to see if it had been shocked revealed that it was in perfect condition. In fact, it was in better than perfect condition. His hand looked approximately 20 years younger. Several small scars that were on his hand from his youth were completely healed. Jim was shocked by the fact that his hand looked as it did. He slowly reached for the floating ball again. The silver sphere allowed Jim to catch it momentarily. A tingly feeling spread over his entire body as he slowly pulled it closer to himself This amazing object defied description. A closer inspection revealed that the sphere had thousands of tiny ever-changing patterns of silver on its surface. After allowing it to float over his hand for a while, Jim put the ball back in its case and closed the top. He wondered how the heck that thing had gotten into his mother’s attic. Suddenly Jim caught his reflection in the mirror across the room. He jumped in astonishment because it seemed to be a stranger long forgotten staring back at him. Jim had been transformed into his youthful self of age 23. “Uh-Oh!” Jim thought, “Nobody is going to recognize me at work now.” He walked up to the mirror in disbelief Jim tore off his clothes and discovered it was true. The change was complete and total. He really was changed into a much younger version of himself “This could be a slight problem, but the benefits definitely outweigh the problems,” he thought grasping the reality of what happened. Try as he might, Jim could not figure out the ball’s origin. There were no markings on the strange box anywhere. Jim thought, “Nobody will believe what happened to me. I certainly can’t attempt to teach a class like this.” He picked up the phone and called in sick arranging once again for a substitute to take his place for a few days. He had to figure out what to do next. His sister had seen the box — perhaps he could confide what had happened to him to her. He dialed his sister’s number and she answered. Jim tried to explain who he was, but unfortunately his sister did not recognize his voice. She became angry at the apparent prank caller and eventually hung up afier arguing with him for a while. Jim knew he had to see her in person to convince her of the bizarre change. He packed his things and grabbed the little gray box on the way to his car. He threw his things in the trunk and pulled out of his driveway. However, as he was leaving, he noticed a solid white van with no markings or windows start its engine. It had been parked in front of his neighbor’s house and slowly pulled out some distance behind him. “That’s strange,” Jim thought, “I don’t remember my neighbor owning such a van.” The van followed him all the way to the interstate, but stayed a few hundred yards behind him. At first Jim did not pay much attention to the van, but after it continued to follow him for more than an hour he began to become worried. He decided to get off the interstate to get some gas even though he had almost a full tank. Perhaps he was only being paranoid and the van would continue down the interstate without him. He pulled off at the next exit looking in his rear view mirror to see what the van was going to do. Sure enough, the van followed him down the exit ramp. Now Jim was scared. “What could this person want from me?” he thought as the fears ran though his mind with lightning speed. He pulled into the first gas station and quickly jumped out of his car looking for the mysterious van. Slowly, the van passed in front of the station. Jim sighed with relief as he pumped $2.00 worth of gas into his tank. After paying for his gas and heading back to his car, he saw the van slowly passing back in front of the gas station. An icy shot of adrenaline coursed through Jim’s veins. He knew something was going on, but did not know what. He did not want to endanger his sister. If something was going to happen he did not want to involve her. He slipped back into his vehicle with a bit of confusion as to what to do next. He pulled back onto the interstate heading towards his sister’s house. At first he thought that he may have lost the strange white van, but not long after that, it again appeared in his rearview mirror. Jim knew he had to try and ditch the van. He floored his little Corolla and sped up. His vehicle began to shake and rattle as he slowly approached 90mph. Unfortunately, the van easily kept up with him. Perhaps he could lose them on some back roads with lots of curves. Jim took the next exit and, of course, the van followed suit. He did not know the area around this exit but had to try something. Jim quickly sped around the first left he could find. Then a quick right and another left. After several more turns, Jim was definitely lost. He turned onto a gravel road and sped down it as fast as he could go and still control his vehicle. Fortunately, the area was thick with woods and had very few houses. Soon the road came to a dead end and Jim started to turn his car around. “Surely I lost them,” he thought as he straightened out his front end facing out and turned the engine off “I’ll just wait here for a while until they give up.” Ten minutes later, to Jim’s hoffor, he saw the van coming down the rock road straight towards him. “UhOh!” Jim’s voice quivered. His only thought was to flee as fast as possible. He quickly got out of his car and instinctively locked it as he slammed the door and took off into the nearby thick woods. His now young and agile body flew through the trees with newfound youth. He slowed his pace and paused a moment to look back and attempt to see what was happening back at his car. He could barely make out through the dense trees two men jump out of the van. They were both dressed in black suits and had on dark sunglasses. Immediately, they attempted to open his car but found that Jim had locked it. One of the men reached under his jacket and pulled out a large automatic pistol. The gun cracked to life eating a gaping hole in his window. They quickly searched the interior of his car and moved to the trunk. Again the gun barked loudly, opening the trunk lock with ease. Without delay, the men grabbed the gray box and jumped back into their van. They quickly turned it around and spit rocks from underneath their tires as they left the area. “Well, at least I know what they wanted,” thought Jim, “and I am still alive.” Jim decided not to go back for his vehicle for fear that the men would return for him. He picked a direction and began walking straight until he found a road. He followed the road and fortunately found civilization eventually. Not wanting to go home because he knew they would be waiting for him there, he started life over again. This time he got married and had four children from his lovely young bride. He eventually outlived his sister by many years, although he was too afraid to contact her for the rest of his life. He never returned to his old life, but happily enjoyed his new one. He always wondered what happened to the strange ‘sphere’ he had found, but was never able to locate any information on it. Luckily for Jim, the men who took the sphere never paid a visit to his new home. Having lived almost another complete lifetime, Jim was a very wise man in his new town. He thanked God that he survived the ordeal and fortunately, he was one of the few people to be given a second chance at life.


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