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Before Aesop died, he called me to his bedside. His breathing was shallow and his skin was ashen. Even I knew the end was near, but I was reluctant to surrender this great story teller to another dimension. His stories had beguiled me, amused me and also taught me great lessons. How could I surrender this great man and let all the fantasies of my childhood disappear? Why had he called me?|
I was surprised that he remembered me and even more astounded that he'd ask for me to sit with him during his final moments. Half expecting a room full of dragons or ogres attending to his final needs, I entered the hospital room reluctantly. It was empty save for the tiny man half-hidden beneath the covers.
Approaching the bed quietly, I sat down to wait until he opened his eyes. As if he sensed my presence, his eyelids twitched then opened as soon as I sat down. A weak smile fluttered across his lips and he reached for my hand. "I'm so glad you could make it, Peter."
Was he confusing me? My name was William. Perhaps I should just leave, but as if he sensed my retreat, his hand tightened over my wrist.
"My name's not Peter. I'm a forty-year-old accountant who lives in Queens."
"I know who you are Billy, but once upon a time you wanted to be Peter Pan, pretending you were for weeks, driving your parents crazy."
"Yes," I sighed. "I never wanted to grow up."
"I know, dear boy, I know. That's why I called you to be with me today. There's still a spark of magic in your heart and I need your help. I need you to go to my house by the river and retrieve some things of vital importance."
"My help? Your house? I'm sorry, I'm confused. You died hundreds of years ago. What are you doing here? What am I doing here?"
"Ah, for some I'll never die. And for others like you, well, for the likes of you, I've died a thousand deaths. My stories have survived, but there is a little boy down the hall who has stopped believing in magic. He has leukemia and has been forced to grow up far too fast. Nothing makes him smile anymore and he's almost given up hope. I need you to remember who you were, the little boy inside of you that went on adventures with me. I need you to go to my house and retrieve the magic that the boy craves. You can find everything in my house."
"How am I supposed to do that?" I panicked. For the second time in just a very few minutes, I wanted to run.
Aesop smiled and pointed to a large tome on the bedside table, gesturing for me to bring it to him. He opened the cover and there on the first page was a dedication. It was written to me.
William, sometimes known as Peter, is my disciple. He will bring Jerry the proof he needs to believe again.
"Who's Jerry?" I stammered.
"Jerry Hunter, room 645, just down the hall. You'll know what to do when the time comes."
Aesop closed his eyes. The heart monitor quietly lost its strength; the steady beats, the movement of the green line slowed until there was a straight line. Nurses ran in, carts were shuttled through the door and hands pushed me into the corridor. Aesop died, once again.
I found myself out in the hallway holding the book. It looked like a first edition, but it couldn't be, I thought. That couldn't have been Aesop. He must have been some old man suffering from dementia, but the invitation he'd received clearly stated that Aesop wanted my attendance and for some reason I felt compelled to come.
Even after all the excitement died down and the medical staff left Aesop's hospital room, I didn't feel right about leaving. Something compelled me to go see the boy, Jerry Hunter in room 645.
I gently pushed the door open and saw him for the first time. My heart went out to the boy, a forlorn frail figure propped up in the bed against pillows staring mindlessly at the TV screen. He looked emaciated and bald, likely from the chemo treatments. A tattered brown teddy bear was propped up on the window ledge and the end table was covered with comic books. The same ones I used to read, I thought. For a moment I closed my eyes and remembered how excited I'd be when a new edition went on sale. I had them all--Superman, Batman--the works. I wanted to believe in heroes back then. I sighed, thinking how painful it was to face reality and realize that I was the only one who could save me. There wasn't anyone coming to rescue me.
Death played an important part in my jaded trashing of childhood dreams--just like Jerry--I knew how cold and heartless the world could be. For me, it was my parents' car accident that destroyed my wonder. Jerry's was his own probable death.
He looked so innocent sitting there surrounded by a sea of sanitized linens, but there was nothing I could do for the kid. I turned to walk away.
"What the hell do you want?"
The boy must have sensed my movements, but still nothing prepared me for the angry voice and profanity.
"I've just come from down the hall. Aesop asked me to stop by and see you."
"That old dick head, he should be dead by now."
"Well he is. He died just a few minutes ago."
My words shocked the boy. He instantly pulled the sheet over his head and I could hear the muffled sobs being released into his pillow. I crossed the room and placed my hand on his hunched back, instantly sorry I'd been so abrupt, but the boy's demeanour had shaken me and for a moment I'd forgotten he was just a little boy.
I stood for a moment, unsure what to do, but Jerry didn't shrug my hand away and eventually he stopped crying. Slowly he pulled the sheet away from his face and looked up at me, a frightened child. "He used to tell me stories," he said, wiping the snot on the sleeve of his pyjamas. "He told me stories every day."
"I've got his book. I could read you a story."
He nodded and I sat down in the chair by his bed. As I opened the book, a sheet of paper fell out. I glanced at the list, but it was ridiculous and I was about to throw it into the garbage bin when Jerry shot up, sat perfectly straight in his bed. "Don't do that," he said. "That's our list. Don't throw it away."
"Yeah, the old man made me tell him what would convince me that there was magic left in the world and he wrote it down. Said he'd fetch everything from his house when he got released."
I stared down at the ten items on the list. "This sounds pretty far-fetched to me. Why would you need a list like this to make you believe in magic?"
"The old man said I needed to start believing again and I told him if he could find half the ingredients for my magic cure, I'd give it a shot. It's not like I have much to believe in, you know."
I looked at the list once more and shook my head, not understanding whether Aesop expected me to participate in this treasure hunt or just befriend the child. I looked at it again, trying to take it seriously.
1.Unicorn farts (yep, you have to find a way to capture it)
2. Fairy dust (you do have to capture it)
3. The last words spoken by (your choice a famous person)
4. The end of the rainbow (a slice of it)
5. The end of the good fairies wand
6. The jolly green Giants snot
7. The hair from the back of a troll
8. Cinderella's lost slipper
9. A tear from the eye of the wicked queen in the story snow white
10.A bag of monster candy... (Meaning candy you've collected from a monster...
"Let me think about it, okay?" I said when I finally rose to leave.
"Bull shit. I'll never see you again. Why do you care? I don't even know your name. You'll never come back here. Why should you?"
The boy's defiant attitude was back. I suspected it was a defence mechanism, but I chose not to comment on the language or acknowledge that anything was out of the ordinary.
"I used to pretend that I was Peter Pan, but my real name is William. You can call me anything you please, but I'll be back."
When I left the hospital, the night air seemed to snap me out of my delusion. There was no Aesop lying dead upstairs. How could there be, he died fifteen hundred years ago and yet I was carrying a very old book whose cover was crafted with weathered leather. I suspected the gold writing on the cover was the real thing.
But the boy, the boy was real, I thought as I got into my car and drove home. Very real, I thought; lost and frightened. I'd look at the list again and see if I could figure out a way to bring magic into the Jerry's world. There was no way I was going to break into a house. I didn't even know the address. I'd figure it out in my own way.
After a restless night filled with dreams about my parents and my childhood, before being sent to live in foster care, I woke up determined to try to fulfill the boy's fantasy. There was tough competition out there for a child's imagination. Even Jerry had some electronic game devices in his room that spit out million-dollar graphics that spoiled the ability to dream, but I had a partial plan and I got on the phone.
An hour and a dozen phone calls later, I'd hired an actress and judging by the e-mail photo I was sent, she had the finest fairy costume that existed on Broadway. I'd laid out the script very carefully, ensuring that she came with a wand filled with glitter that she'd sprinkle over Jerry when she visited his room the next day. These two items from the list were easy"a cakewalk, I told myself"but I needed five things and had three more to go.
In a moment of inspiration, I called my buddy, Fred, from the office. Fred was almost seven feet tall and everybody called him the 'Friendly Giant.' True he wasn't that jolly, and after I described what I wanted from him, Fred was downright ugly, but he agreed and I rushed off to buy green felt and oysters from the fish monger. I couldn't convince Fred to immortalize his own snot, but I thought a slimy oyster would fit the bill, be the right size for the Jolly Green Giant's booger.
Fred made me swear on my mother's grave that the pictures would not be circulated in the office or show up on U-tube, but when he heard about Jerry, he agreed. A few hours later, I had pictures of an embarrassed Fred wearing a felt green crown with an oyster stuck up his nose. Just to add credibility to his claim, I neatly shucked a few more oysters and stuck them in a Tupperware dish as evidence and headed off to the hospital.
Jerry wasn't propped up when I came in. He was lying flat in the bed with an IV attached and for a moment I thought he was asleep. I sat down and he immediately opened his eyes. "You're back."
"I said I'd come. What's happening, buddy?"
"They're giving me more chemo," he said.
"Why isn't anybody from your family here with you?"
I felt the outrage rising like soured bile and I wanted to demand why anyone would leave a twelve-year-old boy to face this treatment alone, but I knew that if I said anything it would upset the kid.
"Don't they usually come stay with you when you get treatments?"
"Sometimes, but I've been sick for a long time. Greta says they've got lives to live too."
"Who is Greta?" I asked instantly wanting to kill the bitch.
"My stepmother, but it's okay. I'm used to it. They think I'm going to die anyway."
Shoving aside my anger, I asked him where his father was, and that too was revealing. His father was working three jobs just to try to keep up with the medical costs. "He's doing everything he can, you know." Billy said with no obvious signs of animosity.
Trying to avert my rage, I teased Jerry about the list. "I've got the first thing," I said.
"No!" Jerry's eyes widened in wonder. "Which one?"
I showed him the picture and carefully peeled back the cover of the Tupperware to expose the Green Giant's 'snot.'
He started to giggle, then laugh so hard the nurses came rushing in to see what had caused such an unexpected noise from Jerry's room. We were both severely admonished for our hysterics and we tried to keep it down, but we giggled all the while, until the bag ran out and Jerry's chemo session ended.
"Okay, buddy, one down and four to go," I said as I left him.
I smiled as I fell asleep that night, knowing that tomorrow Jerry would see his real-life fairy and collect the end from her wand, get his fairy dust and perhaps laugh again.
The last things I thought of before I fell asleep were unicorn farts and troll body hair. Aesop really wouldn't have those things in his house, would he?
I stopped by the hospital after work the next day to see if our fairy had arrived. Once more Jerry was propped up, but today his bed was covered with glowing sequins. She'd been there. If the mess in the room wasn't evidence enough, the smile on his face reassured me that the magic had worked. He sounded like an entranced little boy when he greeted me, not the thug I'd first met.
"She was beautiful, Peter. You should have seen her. Her hair was all the way down to her waist and she even kissed me goodbye. Look, here's the end of her wand. She gave it to me. Can you believe it?"
I smiled when he called me Peter and in a way I felt like a kid again, believing in magic and possibilities. I was about to sit down when a woman pushed her way into the room.
"Who are you?" she demanded to know.
"Just a friend. My name's William, William Stone."
I wasn't sure whether she listened to what I said or cared for that matter. I was about to leave, but in less than five minutes she was already retreating and saying her goodbyes.
"I gather that was Greta, "I said.
"Yes, and look, she brought me a bag of candy. The monster brought me a bag of candy." His laughter was contagious. "That's four items on the list already completed."
"Wow, you consider her a monster? You're letting that item get crossed off your list just because she came to the hospital for five minutes.
"Yup," he said offering me a treat from his bag of goodies. "She's the only monster I know."
I sat with Jerry telling him one of Aesop's stories. I had to admit that I was really starting to enjoy my visits with the boy. Maybe I was just enjoying remembering how it felt to be a kid again.
"You mean that slow old turtle beat the rabbit? You're pulling my leg, right?"
"No, Jerry, it's true he won the race. Slow and steady gets the prize, they say."
When I was ready to leave Jerry suddenly became very quiet. "I guess I won't be seeing you much anymore, will I?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, you've checked off five items from the list."
"Three," I said.
"There was the snot, the fairy dust and the end from her wand and the monster came today with a bag of candy."
"That's only four, even if you let me count your step-mother,"
"You also told me what the old man said before he died."
"Aesop, you're counting him?"
"Well he was famous, wasn't he?"
Jerry's lip was trembling and I saw the tears well up in his eyes. "'I'll be back tomorrow. Now don't cry, buddy." I kissed him on the forehead and then just so he didn't feel like such a little boy, I gave him a gentle punch on the arm."
It was a rough night for me. I hardly slept and wondered about the lonely little boy who still didn't believe in magic. I had no idea how severe his medical condition was. Even if I'd asked, the nurses would have shrugged me off. I wasn't family--I wasn't entitled to information. I couldn't ask Jerry. Our visits were happy moments in his day"mine too, I had to admit. What did it matter anyhow, I thought, and then felt tears in my own eyes"Jerry matters.
I hadn't thought any more about the list, but it was Saturday morning. I had all day to conjure up another example of magic. Maybe technically five items were fulfilled, but I craved the look on the boy's face when something could take him away from his daily battle with his disease. I got my inspiration while I was in the shower. Drying off on the bath mat, I faced the mirror. Yeah, I agreed with myself--that is definitely troll hair growing on your chest. I got out the manicure scissors, fetched another Tupperware container and began to harvest the crop of hair that my testosterone produced.
I stopped at Blockbuster, rented a video machine and grabbed some movies, laughing all the way to the hospital.
"Don't you ever get out of bed?" I asked him when I walked in the room. I'd brought popcorn and snacks oblivious to any dietary restrictions Jerry might have.
"I'm pretty weak," he said, but managed a grin.
"Did your dad ever tell you about the facts of life?" I said, ready to ignore his answer.
"He doesn't have to, everybody knows about screwing."
"Well that's your first mistake, thinking that making love to a woman is screwing. But I'm pretty sure you're a virgin, right?"
Mr. Tough Guy had the courtesy of blushing. "Well I brought us a movie called 'The Forty Year old Virgin.' There's a troll in the movie and I managed to catch me some of those hairs off his back. Number six, right?"
I busied myself hooking up the DVD player the best I could to the hospital TV and we settled down to watch the movie. We laughed, ate popcorn and Snicker bars and I presented him with the authentic troll hair I'd discovered. When Jerry's dinner arrived, I unhooked the rental unit and was about to leave when he called me back from the door.
"Peter, I do believe in magic now."
"So, all those crazy things on your list gave you back the magic, did it?"
"No, Peter, you did. I look forward to seeing you and I think I've still got some hope that I'll beat this thing. Thank you."
It was raining when I left the hospital and I was grateful for it, not wanting to admit that I was crying. I didn't feel like Peter at all when I got in the car, just a very old man who couldn't change what was happening to Jerry with a credit card or any kind of magic.
I slept in the following morning. After a week of interrupted sleep and dreams that seemed to come out of nowhere, I felt better than I had in days. I promised myself that I wouldn't let last night's emotions take over again. I made myself breakfast, but skipped the toast. I planned on picking up donuts before I went to the hospital.
The nurses treated me like a regular, usually waving or giving me a smile as I made my way to room 645, but today they seemed flustered and the head nurse rushed out from her station. "Don't go in there," she yelled as I pushed the door open. But the door was already open. Jerry wasn't there. An old man with tubes sticking out from all parts of his body lay in Jerry's bed.
The nurse caught up to me as my knees buckled and grabbed me under the arm. "No, no, Mr. Stone, Jerry's fine. He's been sent home."
The boulder that had plunged into my stomach kept me on my knees. I thought he'd died. "Home?" I asked in a weak voice.
"Yes, Jerry has been sent home, but he left something for you." She helped me to my feet and to a bench in the hallway as she rushed back to the nurse's station.
She came back a few moments later with a glass of water and an envelope. "This is for you," she said.
I gulped back the water and let my nerves settle before ripping open the envelope.
Hi Peter, they say I can go home, so now the monster gets to prove she's Florence Nightingale in disguise. LOL
Thanks for everything you did for me. The doctors think I'm going to be okay for now and I hope you will be too.
I kind of figured you needed a new list to work on so here it is, and remember, you have to get at least half the stuff if you're going to keep believing in magic.
1. Go to a ballgame and have some fun
2. Get a girlfriend and DON'T SCREW HER. Do the other thing, the love thing you told me about
3. Find a slice of the rainbow-just for you
4. Look after your hair (bald definitely isn't beautiful and I should know)
5. Quit hanging around hospitals"you can get sick in those places.
6. Don't forget me.
Your friend, Jerry.
Jerry had written his phone number at the bottom of the letter and included one other thing in the envelope. He'd left the tip from the Fairy's wand for me.
Two things I could cross off my list right away. I'd never forget him and the only way I'd ever come back to a hospital is on a stretcher. Yes, there was still magic in my life.
We are going on a treasure hunt
The prompt required a story of a treasure hunt using at least five of the items on the list, included in the story.
I found this prompt a little weird, but thought I'd try to live up to the expectations. Hope you are entertained.
and 2 member cents.
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