By Hoosier Daddy

This started out to be a much shorter story but it just kept growing (don‘t I wish other things would). I don’t usually post until a story is finished but there should be enough installments to last until I get it done. Muscle growth will show up later. Hope ypu like the start.

It was 3am on a Saturday after work. In that day’s newspaper had been two articles which unknown to me were the key to events that would change my life. Perhaps that’s why I was restless. I didn’t feel like going home and stopped in at a local watering hole to unwind. I got out my notepad and slid into a booth. I noticed a crumpled straw-paper and a half used packet of sweet & low that was folded over like someone had used half and left the other half for the next person to use. My head wasn’t willing to write, but if I toyed around, something might come to me. Boy did it.

For some reason I began by writing the date and the time. This was odd for me to date my scribbling. Especially since what happened to me next was the mother of all deja-vus. As I wrote the time, my pen skipped on some folded paper tucked into the next page. I tilted my notebook and shook it ant two folded papers slid out. I Remembered being in this booth and doing this exact thing with the exact trash in the ashtray that sat at the exact angle. I looked at the folded articles I had clipped from the paper in the lunch room at work, sitting next to a notebook and the ashtray I had seen before, half expecting my library card to be lying on top of them. I shook my head wondering for a moment just what the significance of this Deja-vu was.

I unfolded the papers and glanced at the titles for some inspiration. I was more interested in stem-cell research than the curious breakthrough in deja-vu. I don’t get the paper so it was an odd chance that on that date I had flipped through that section of a paper that someone had abandoned in the employee dining room.

It is even odder still that today I chose not to flip to the funnies but read how they had limited success growing organ tissue to repair a man’s colon in a case that usually meant removal. That this wasn’t a banner across the front page was probably due to the fact that the colon doesn’t sell as many papers as the heart. The growth of enough smooth muscle tissue from adult fat stem-cells fast enough to save a man from wearing a colostomy bag for the rest of his life should have had Americans dancing in the streets. The article made brief mention that progress was slow coaxing the stem-cells into becoming either cardiac or striated muscle cells. When they repair a heart for the first time, that’s when they'll earn headlines.

The second article had more fuel for my imagination. It seems that a test subject was hooked up to an experimental new kind of E.E.G. monitor when she experienced a strong deja-vu incident. I have had enough deja-vu experiences that I had to formulate my own theory. For me, I consider them as path markers. What other purpose could they serve? Each time I have one I can relax and tell myself that whatever is going on in my life, ‘this is where I’m supposed to be.” I find it rather reassuring.

When I went to pay Sally the waitress for my drink, my library card stuck to the debit card. The only reason this was odd was because the two are never in the same slot. It landed on top of the articles at the angle I had seen before. The next few incidents amounted to a full blown deja-vu meltdown. The hairs on the back of my head began to tingle and didn’t stop. I looked across the bar at the man I had barely noticed earlier. I was reading when he came in so I really didn’t see him enter. I knew already that he was going to stop halfway across the room and start shouting. Sure enough.

“There’s a car in the parking lot with its lights on!” He began, quite loud enough to be heard over the jukebox. He stared right at me and continued. “It’s also on fire! And there’s a woman screaming to be let out of the trunk!” He looked at me and gestured to the oblivious crowd and shook his head. He held up one finger to signal me to wait and watch. Then he inserted his finger and thumb into his mouth and blew an amazingly loud and shrill whistle that also failed to get the slightest reaction from the patrons of the bar. Then he walked over to me. His thin white hair and gaunt appearance made him look close to death. Still, there was something familiar about him. I felt I should know him but I don’t have a grandfather. The faint scar above his left eye reminded me of the scar I saw in the mirror every morning. It was just about the moment that I remembered that mine was also above my left eye that the fingers of his right hand suddenly stung me on that scar. “OW!” was all I got out before he explained what I had already observed.

“No one but you can see or hear me. If you start talking to someone who isn’t there they’ll think you’re nuts.” I closed my mouth and rubbed my head. Sally brought back my card and asked if I was alright. “Ask her for a tall glass of water and a couple aspirins. When this is over you’re head’s gonna hurt like hell but I believe it will be worth it. For both of us.”

He slid into the booth across from me. I was about to ask him what the hell was going on but he stopped me with a look. I asked Sally for the aspirins and he told me to take notes or write down the questions. “I can still read upside down.” I wrote the words ‘Me too!’ at the top of the page. He told me to tell Sally that ibuprofen is fine before she had a chance to tell me what they were. When she sat the pills on the table they were indeed ibuprofen. She laughed and went on with her work. “She’ll remember you from now on. Next week you can ask her out.” I began to write but he stopped me before I could get past the word ‘Why…’ “You’ll understand next week. Right now just listen.” He pointed to the smaller of the two articles. “The results of that are how I’m here.” I peered inside the folded piece of paper and it was the one on the deja-vu story. “I’ve come to tell you how wrong you are in one way and right in the other.” I wrote a large question mark on the page.

He looked at me with an understanding sadness and said the words out loud that I had never spoke or written. I had thought them hundreds of times. Each time my depression kicked in I felt these words to the depth of my soul. “There are days when suicide is a possibility, some when it’s a probability, and others when it’s an eventuality.” I saw tears forming in his eyes.

“By the time my deadline came, life was better even though my health was worse.” He shook his head. “You’re right. When you finally get to work for your own dreams, even when the stress is high it’s better.” I wrote the word ‘Job’ with a question mark. “I’ve decided not to tell you that. What I will tell you is that you don’t expect it to happen the way it does.”

I scribbled ‘So what are you here for?’ I was getting confused. I wondered whether it was really happening. “You might as well take those now.” He pointed to the pills. I picked them up and set them in front of me and stared at him, looking into my own eyes. ‘Glasses?’ I wrote. “It’s all taken care of.” He reached out and touched my hand across the knuckles. “Even this.”

I hadn’t told a soul about how my hand had started to ache most of the time. “I’m all right now, but I’m here for strictly selfish reasons that won’t interfere with your, Hell, our success.” I looked at him and still thought he looked like a stiff breeze could knock him over. ‘All right?’ I wrote. “I’ll get to that.” He looked at his watch. “I hope.”

“Look kid, I always wanted to say that, didn’t I?” He laughed in that way the kids at school used to imitate. Now I knew why. “Look, you know what the right things to do are. I need you to start doing them now.” ‘Before?’ “Below? Oh, Yeah. Before. Sorry, I couldn’t read my own handwriting.” He took a deep breath which seemed difficult for him. “It’s like that movie with Emilio Estavez. I had to know exactly when I felt the flash of deja-vu to boost the signals from my brain to my brain.” He waved his hand to change the subject.

“Worry about it later.” He shook his head to clear it. “This isn’t easy from the sending side either. Look, I’m so frail looking because I’ve had to deal with Cancer and Bypass Surgery. If you do the right thing now physically it’ll be better for us both.” He looked paler and the sense of urgency became more pronounced. “Exercise and diet and more exercise.” He sat back.

My mind was racing. I scribbled a dollar sign on the pad. “Just what you know already but don’t have the confidence to finish and present: Intellectual Property!” He breathed heavily. “Kid, I’m eighty-five years old. There’s one thing I need you to do right now.” He paused. I pointed to my earlier question mark. He smiled.

“I want you to write down on that pad why you think I walked up here and hit you.” He looked tired. “It will prove to you that you can trust this little encounter.“ Pain showed behind his eyes. “This is the last thing. Then I’m going.”

Most of the time I have to think about how to even sign a Birthday card. This time I didn’t have to even think about what to write. I hurriedly printed a quote across the bottom of the page and wrote my father’s name under it as the author. By the time I finished the old guy was standing beside the table reaching inside his pocket.

I turned my pad to him but rather than reading it he held out a piece of notebook paper carefully preserved but still faded in the creases. A few words and a question mark were all that was written on it and across the bottom of the page he held out for me to read was my father’s quote.

“Just like an old mule. First you gotta hit ‘em upside the head with a two-by-four to get their attention.”

I spun my notebook around and for a moment I saw the pages side by side. My head began to hurt. I picked up the two headache pills and downed them with the water Sally had left me. I closed my eyes for an instant while I swallowed. When I opened them again he was gone. My head had begun to throb but the hairs on the back of my head settled down.

The next morning I had my usual breakfast, only half as much. I started the next week’s shopping list with oatmeal, and left off eggs. I kept thinking “bypass.” I walked the two blocks to the 24hr. FitMax Spa that I had always meant to join. While I was on the elliptical trainer doing my low impact cardio, I figured out how to get my main character out of his predicament without a complete rewrite. Not bad for a first day.

Ten pounds later, Sally and I had gone out several times and she wanted me to meet her family. My workout sessions were what was missing from my writing! I was finishing at least a chapter a week and sometimes two short stories. My mind coasted through the hours at my crappy job and all the nonsense barely got to me at all and my uniform was fitting better. •

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