J slept. He dreamed. He dreamed of music. A guitar was playing in his subconscious state of slumber; softly at first, with twinkling, harp-like harmonies; and then slowly increasing in volume while gradually decreasing in pitch. Then the music took shape with a catchy, recognizable pattern.
The music now included more instruments, all in tune and harmonizing with the guitar, yet the guitar was the primary sound above all. He could hear violins, flutes, and clarinets, and when the tune reached its louder levels, trumpets, trombones, and various horns.
The song was loud now, the guitar more distorted and suddenly, everything punched in with a deafening kick. The guitar played a solo that seemed to flow with a flurry of notes that reminded J of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”, by Rimsky-Korsakov but without the repeating phrases. He looked down at his hands and saw they were flying up and down along a guitar fret board, realizing that he was the one making these sounds. It was as if his body was taken over by an unseen force, and he had no control of his fingers.
He looked up, and saw lights. They were flickering and flashing. Colors washed over him and one blinding beam appeared to shine from a distance onto him. He was sweating and breathing hard and deep. A shiver ran through his entire body and immediately, from then on, he had no control at all of his arms. His hands were all over the guitar neck. His fingertips burned with the heat of the friction on the strings.
He looked up in front of him and saw a sea of people. Every face was looking back up at him and they were all dancing and swaying to the music, which now peaked to a completely higher plane than before. He could sense something emanating from him into the guitar, and then out through the sound of the music. He felt that what was flowing from him did not originate from within himself, rather, that it was fed into him, as he played, from a place he did not quite understand.
He perceived also, that the music was having an unusual effect on this expanse of human souls before him. Each and every person, as far as his eyes could see, was being affected somehow. He could comprehend in his mind and feel in his heart the pain, the fears and phobias, the heartache, and the angst of each person out there.
Then, the music seemed to come in for a landing from the lofty airs from where it had been carried, and it slowed and softened. He looked up above and saw a star, shining bright in the black sky. It felt as if a connection, like a spider web string, was stretching and bit by bit, thinning and disappearing between him and that star, and with a sudden “snap!” the tie was gone, the music was over, and darkness enveloped him.
He opened his eyes again to see only the plaster and log beams of his bedroom ceiling. He was awake now. The sun was shining through the window, illuminating a wide ray of tiny dust particles. J had soaked his bed sheets with sweat. He didn’t sit up right away, but lay there, staring at the sunbeam in his room. He imagined each minute dust particle, floating in the light, as a small star in space- his own personal, little universe, floating right there in his room.
“I’ve got to snap out of it.” He thought, “It was only a weird dream.”
Then, as if he were just then coming awake, the memories of the events the day before flooded back into his consciousness, and like a computer rebooting, he remembered his situation.
“I guess yesterday wasn’t a dream, a ‘nightmare’ maybe.”
He caught the aroma of his favorite morning breakfast food…bacon permeating the whole cabin. Pappy had been sick for a long time and J imagined that it had been ages since he was able to actually cook real food for him. He had been starting his day with cold cereal and oatmeal for three months now.
When he walked into the kitchen, Aunt Lisa had prepared pancakes with bacon and was setting his plate on the table. “I’ll leave you to your breakfast. I have to go into town to run some of Daddy’s . . . er, your pappy’s leftover errands. You eat and bide your time as well as you can until I return.”
“Sure,” J said, “I’d like to go to the river and play my guitar a while.”
Aunt Lisa smiled, “That sounds nice. Well, have a good time.”
She stopped before going through the front door and turned to look at J, who had just started to eat, “Are you okay sweetie?” she asked.
“We’ll hang out when I get back and get to know each other. There is so much I want to know about you.” The way she said it made J laugh, accidentally spitting some of his pancake. He could tell she was trying to talk on his pre-teen level at an attempt to make him feel more content, but coming from her, it was mildly amusing to him. He appreciated her for it and, in a way; she actually achieved the intended effect.
“Okay.” J said. He was busy digging into his pancakes and couldn’t talk very well. He had just crammed an entire pancake into his mouth and was barely able to even chew it. Aunt Lisa laughed and went out the door. When J finished eating, he got dressed, grabbed his guitar and carried it to the river. He found a sandy path that wound its way along the riverbank to a place he frequented when he needed time to himself to think about things. There was a nice, huge fallen tree. Its trunk lay parallel with the riverbank. In the space between it and the shore was a small fire pit where J would make a campfire from time to time. This was his favorite spot in the world. He had not been here since Pappy died—he hadn’t had the time. Somehow, he thought that this is where he should be right now. He didn’t want to think though. He just wanted to play a little music on his guitar. He always liked the way the sound of the river gurgling made a peaceful background to his music.
As he started to strum the first chords, he became aware of nothing in his surroundings except for the sounds of nature. He may as well have had his eyes closed. He remembered what Doc told Aunt Lisa last night about his having “something special” when she asked him if he was a good guitarist. He never knew of a time that Doc actually listened to him intently enough to notice if he was any good.
When he stopped thinking about Doc, and his Aunt Lisa, and got back to paying attention to his playing, it suddenly dawned on him that he was playing without even concentrating on his hands. “Wow!” he thought, “That’s a first.” He had always had to think about his playing while he played. This was the first time he had other thoughts on his mind and played at the same time. It reminded him of the dream he had the night before, and how in it he looked down to realize he was the one playing the music, but didn’t realize it until he saw his hands.
What happened next was (unknown to him) was the first in a series of strange events; a precursor of amazement yet to come. As he was picking out a particularly defeating pattern, he broke a string. It had happened in the past many times and would have no consequence now, but for the frustration he felt at that moment seemed to manifest itself at a peculiar level. At the same moment, a large tree limb snapped, fell, and crashed a few feet to his right. The noise from the initial “snap!” hit J’s ears at the exact second the “twang” from the breaking guitar string. When the limb crashed to the ground, it did so with a loud thud that sent a slight tremor through the entire area around where J was sitting. Suddenly a shiver ran through his core and he didn’t know if it was due to the spookiness and fright of the incident, or from a deep down suspicion. He could swear that in some way, the string breaking, and the limb crashing had an uncanny connection . . . as if one caused the other. Something in the pit of his stomach told him that somehow, he caused the tree to give up its dead limb.
J jumped up with his guitar and ran back toward the cabin. “What was that?” he thought. When he got to the edge of the tree line by the river to the field behind the cabin, he stopped and turned around. He looked back towards the river and thought to himself, “I’m losing it. There is no way that just happened.”
J. walked into the back door to the kitchen and sat at the table. He wondered when he would ever see this place again. He had never been away from Summer Hills except for the occasional fishing trip with Pappy and Doc. He felt that perhaps going away wouldn’t be so bad now that Pappy was gone. He liked the idea of a new adventure. He actually felt excited about going to New York City. Maybe there he wouldn’t feel like such a hermit. Being home-schooled as he was, J didn’t have as many friends as other kids since he didn’t go to a public school. He wondered what the kids were like in New York.
While he was sitting there with his thoughts of “the incident at the river”, Aunt Lisa came back. They sat and talked a while until the time came to get motivated to get ready for the move. Ted came by to help J with some of his packing, which did not amount to much; just a few clothes, some music, and his acoustic guitar that Pappy had an old friend build for him. Then it was time. Lisa wanted to get on the road early and stop for the night on the way so they could arrive early in the city before the traffic jams that are so common in New York.
There was really no one to say goodbye to other than Doc Wilson. By now, he was standing by his Jeep, wearing his overalls that had always been his trademark attire
“Well son, I guess this is it. Now you take care of your Aunt Lisa. Something tells me she kind of needs you.”
Doc Wilson could see a tinge of apprehension in J’s eyes . . . maybe even a tear welling up.
“Don’t you worry boy, you’ll be alright. You know? I grew up around these parts. Lived here all my life except once. That was when I went to Chicago to go to medical school. Scariest thing I ever did, moving away to a big city like that. But I adjusted, and I don’t think I was as smart as you. Actually, now that it comes to it, I’d like to get away from here and see a big city again. Maybe I’ll come up to see you real soon.”
“Will you, Doc, really?”
“Sure kid. Maybe sooner than you think.”
“That’d be great.”
J meant it too. He had a feeling a familiar face would be quite welcome in the near future until he, too, could adjust. There would be absolutely no one in New York other than Aunt Lisa for him to talk to—at least until he could meet some friends. There was handshake, and then an awkward hug, and then Ted went over to Lisa.
“You’re a good woman Miss Franklin, coming down here to get the boy like you did. If anything happens, don’t hesitate to give me a call and I’ll do what I can to help.”
She was dismissive, “Aw, t’weren’t nuthin’.” Then she giggled, “Is that how you say that? Thank you Ted for all you’ve done and we’ll be looking forward to your visit when you decide to come.”
With that, J and Aunt Lisa were in her car and riding away. Doc Wilson stayed at the cabin to cover the furniture, shut off the well, and essentially secure the old cabin for a long vacancy. He was going to miss Johnny and all the good times with him and Pappy. Ted was left in charge of the property . . . its cabin, land and Pappy’s secrets.
“I guess I’ll tell her about her sister if the time comes when she needs to know. There’s no need for that can of worms to be opened yet. Not after all the changes in that poor family’s life here lately. I made a promise too but I don’t know if I can live up to it to my grave. They’re going to have to know some day.”