Short Story #1
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TIMES AND LIVES

by Jeffrey J. Lyons


Thomas Haine had spent most of his life on the sea and knew this was going to be a rough storm. He could see it in the clouds. Dark, powerful clouds rolled in ominously from the horizon. Skipper Hanson snapped orders and crew members scurried about the deck battening down the hatches, prepared for the worst.

Thomas secured the wooden crates in the hold and saw the oil lamps swing back and forth as the wooden cargo ship creaked noisily on the rising waves. If he could ride this one out there would be a pint of ale waiting for his lips at the Carved Lamb Tavern in Portland, a favorite watering hole. He thought of the ale to take his mind off the oncoming late season storm.

The wind wailed. Skipper Hanson shouted, "All hands!" Thomas tied another knot and darted up the steps to the deck. Raindrops pounded his face. He slapped on his shirt and reported to the skipper. His ragged uniform was no better than that of the rest of the motley crew with whom he fell into line. The mate gripped tightly to the wheel fighting to keep control of the bouncing ship. Skipper Hanson ordered the crew to key corners of the deck. Thomas was ordered forward.

Lightning began to glow in the sky as the rumble of thunder vibrated the ship. Thomas had seen many a storm in his twenty-seven years of life but this one was going to be very rough indeed. Think of the ale. Think of the ale. He smacked his lips.

A gust of wind knocked him off balance but he managed to hold firm on the bow. The shower turned to rain the rain to an incessant downpour. Thomas watched as a crack tore across a ten-foot board and ripped it from its place with the latest thunder burst.

His thoughts turned to his older sister Mabel and his inevitably absent father. He thought of his poor mother who died when he was twelve. He remembered the excitement he felt upon quitting school and going out to sea.

A deafening thunderclap echoed across the pitching seas and jolted Thomas from his thoughts. A man cried in agony as a thrashing wave grabbed him and carried him desperately toward the edge. Breaking a cardinal rule on board every ocean-going vessel - "Follow orders as given" - Thomas leaped toward the man in a last gasp attempt to rescue him from a dreadful fate. To Hades with the orders, he thought. A man's life is in danger.

He thrust his hand out but the waves were too strong and the crewman washed overboard...screaming all the way. Thomas looked away but for a moment.

He twisted his drenched head skyward and saw flames erupting on the forward mast. The skipper barked out orders to secure the mast.

Men raced to carry out his orders. Thomas was among them. The heavy rain suppressed the flames but the mast was clearly cracked and beginning to split. Skipper Hanson bounded to the foot of the mast. His eyes danced along the faces of the crew and lighted on Thomas.

Skipper Hanson shouted, "Climb up and secure it."

Thomas froze for a moment.

"Now!" Hanson bellowed.

Thomas grabbed a nearby rope as the wind-whipped rain pummeled his face. He tied part of the rope to his waist and part to the mast and shimmed toward the violent heavens. He gasped at the height. It had to be seventy-five feet high. All eyes were on him but he tried not to look back or down. His mind focused on the ale and on his job. He breathed rapid. A gust of wind nearly blew him off making him tighten his grip on the mast. The skies were so black; he almost believed it to be sundown.

Thomas closed within a yard of the damaged section. The flames had died but the wood still smoldered thickly. With his left hand he started fastening the rope to the masthead. With each gust of wind, he spun. The seconds seemed like hours.

Skipper Hanson yelled orders below and told the crew to do their jobs and let Thomas do his.

Thomas was tired. The long hard climb up the slippery mast sapped much of his strength. The wind was ferocious and the rain was so hard, he felt like he would drown. He thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. The crack seemed longer. He tightened the rope and prepared to knot it up.

Before he could do that, the mast split and the sail unfurled. Thomas gripped harder but the mast was like molasses. Another gust of wind ripped the sail swinging Thomas about. The splintered mast bent. At last Thomas tied the knot. He was relieved. He had been successful. He pushed himself downward and readied himself to help on another task. Suddenly a piece of the torn sail slapped him in the face.

He lost his grip.

"Look out!" cried the skipper.

The last thing Thomas saw was the sail flying aimlessly in the wind. The last thing he felt was a brief burst of agonizing pain in his back and the inability to take another breath of air.

***

Timothy Hennimen awoke to the soothing sounds of Dr. Cabot's voice. He could hear the tick-tick-ticking of the timer. "Just relax. Breathe normally," Dr. Cabot said.

Timothy slowly opened his eyes and through the fog he saw fluorescent lights and the ivy plant on the windowsill. He felt beads of sweat on his forehead and almost felt exhausted.

"How do you feel?" Dr. Cabot asked. Timothy looked at Dr. Cabot's gray hair, eyeglasses and worn face. But the smile was calming.

"Better," Timothy said. "Boy, you really must have pumped some stuff into me."

"Stuff?" Dr. Cabot said with a puzzled look on his face.

"Yeah, what did you do? Did you drug me?"

Dr. Cabot laughed. "What did you see?"

"All these images of storms, ugly crews and boats. That was quite a trip. You’re some hypnotist," Timothy said as he rubbed his eyes.

"There are many realities in which we can live. What you saw was one of them."

"Yeah, right," Timothy guffawed sardonically. He sat up his chair and reached for his coat. "I came to you on the advice of my chiropractor. It's a good thing it was a freebie. It didn't do anything for my sprained back. It just reminded me of it in a rather outrageous way."

Dr. Cabot nodded. "It wasn't going to be an immediate remedy. It was supposed to help you understand your pain."

Timothy sighed. He slowly pushed his right arm through his jacket and said, "I understand that I'll never be able to get rid of this constant pain. Even hypnotism won't help."

"Hypnotism can help you forget about the pain. If you come back again, I will be happy to give you suggestions to help you deal with the pain more effectively. You were a very good subject. You went into a hypnotic state quickly. Some people cannot do that at all." Dr. Cabot said.

"I'm sorry," Timothy said, "I just don't believe hypnotism is anything more than a circus trick. It's like psychics or palm reading or something."

Dr. Cabot did not let go of his smile. He reached into his coat pocket and handed Timothy a card. "Call me if you change your mind."

As Timothy drove home he could not shake the images of heavy downpours, splitting masts, and cheap brown ale. Damn hypnotist, he thought. He had this ceaseless urge to drink a pint of ale in an English pub.

"The Carved Lamb Tavern in Portland," he said aloud. He had images dancing in his head of intoxicated sailors singing drinking songs. He could almost smell it and the stench was horrible. Timothy shook his head and laughed to himself.

He watched the bars along the side of the road with their neon signs glowing with names like Ernie's, The Whispering Winds and Chug-A-Lug. Timothy wondered if the tavern was in Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon. He was in Massachusetts and wasn't very far from Maine.

But the English pub atmosphere played in his head over and over. An English pub might be on the East Coast, especially if the shipping accident happened so long ago. His body replayed the memory of the strain in his back and the image of an uncontrollable ripped sail along the background of a stormy sky.

At home, Timothy stared aimlessly at the television. He flipped through different news stations but could not concentrate. He eyed the telephone. Timothy reached for the phone book and dialed information in Maine. The operator gave him the number to the Portland Historical Society.

A friendly female voice answered the phone. Timothy asked, "Is there some way of finding out if there was ever a tavern in town by the name of the Carved Lamb?"

The woman said she could go through some old directories and get back to him. He said nervously, "Don't go out of your way."

But the lady assured him that it was no problem and promised to call him back in a little while.

Timothy paced his living room for about a half-hour when the phone rang. It was the friendly lady from the Portland Historical Society. She said there had been such a place in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. It closed in 1830. The building still existed and was located in Portland's Old Port neighborhood.

That piqued his interest. There had actually been a tavern in Portland by that name. It felt like a dream. Later in the week, Timothy felt compelled to go to Portland. He took more pills to ease the creeping pain in his lower back and hopped into his car.

Images of dark clouds, a scurrying crew, and pandemonium skipped through his head for the entire ride. His head buzzed with incomprehensible sounds and whispers. He could not make out the words. It must have been the brain strain on the long ride.

As he arrived in Portland's Old Port, the sounds faded but the scenery looked vaguely familiar. He figured it was only his imagination. That damn Dr. Cabot, he thought.

Timothy found the building described by the lady from the Historical Society. Now he shivered. He felt like he knew it. Sure, the building was still a bar and it was covered with neon lights advertising what was on tap. But the floral design around the doorway felt like something he should know.

Timothy eyed the doorway cautiously and then stepped inside. The interior was rustic and the walls were decorated with seafaring antiques and memorabilia. The floors were hardwood dotted by a couple of dozen tables surrounded by benches. It was mid-afternoon and a few people sat at the tables reading their newspapers and having a beer.

Timothy stepped up to the bar and said, "A pint of English ale."

The words came out of him naturally. The bartender asked what kind. "We have Newcastle, Double Diamond and John Courage on tap. What's your preference?"

Timothy suddenly realized he knew nothing about English ales and he told the bartender to pick. The bartender poured a Newcastle. Timothy sipped and was pleasantly surprised at how smooth it tasted.

Timothy heard more whispering in his head. With a furtive glance he examined the room and wondered if he overheard a conversation. The whispers became louder. He could make out a few words, "day...brethren...fallen ones...." The whispers faded. It must have been the ale.

A new image of storm and the sensation of the crash on the ship’s deck played again in his head. He was frustrated and very uneasy. He cursed Dr. Cabot.

He pushed the image from his head and was out of the door in a flash. His destination was the Historical Society.

It was the woman he spoke to on the phone that greeted him when he arrived. She remembered him.

"How can I help you now?" she asked.

"Do you have listings of people buried in the cemeteries?" Timothy asked. "I am especially interested in early nineteenth century cemeteries."

She nodded and said, "We do have many records. Do you have a name or a date?"

Timothy gulped. He felt leery about spitting out the name. It almost seemed like a bad word. "Thomas Haine. He lived about that time and he died in 1822."

Timothy had to stop himself. How in the world did he know that?

"You've done your research," she said.

She went into the back room and pulled out a dusty leather bound booklet. "It's a good thing you knew the year. That makes it a lot easier."

She blew the dust off the cover and opened the book toward the back. Timothy noticed the beautiful, flowery calligraphy written in ink by some local statistician more than 150 years ago.

"It'll take a second," she said, "These were not alphabetical. Ah, here we go."

Timothy's heart thumped harder and he felt beads of sweat building up on his forehead once again. He felt butterflies in his stomach. It almost felt like he was going to lose the ale he just pounded down. He heard the whispers, which did not want to leave him alone. "Brethren...lost..."

Timothy’s attention returned with the sudden voice of the young lady. "Thomas T. Haine, 27, Shipman. He died at sea in the Year of Our Lord, 1822. He received an honorable burial at this cemetery." She pointed it out to him. "That's up on a hill. Was he an ancestor of yours?"

Timothy thanked her and left.

***

It was strange for Timothy to enter this old, creepy cemetery. A stone wall with tall oak trees casting shadows in every corner surrounded it. The stones were weatherworn and difficult to read. The most recent burials looked to be in the 1870's.

The voices returned. The whispers were louder. Timothy shook his head. Why wouldn’t they go away? Has he become insane during his quest for knowledge?

Now he could make out more of the words. The voices droned as if he was hearing them now. The stormy images were replaced by a dark image as if he was locked in a closet. "On this day one of our brethren has become one of the fallen ones."

The voice was familiar. Timothy knew it instinctively. It was a raspy voice he recognized, yet in a more subdued, calm tone. The voice of Skipper Hanson echoed loudly in his head as if he was standing next to him.

"Shipman Thomas Haine gave the largest sacrifice of them all, his life, in the line of duty. His actions while ending his own life saved the lives of twenty other men. He has now returned to the one who created him," Skipper Hanson’s voice said from the trees, from the bushes, and from the sky.

Timothy tore at his hair and grasped his head. He pounded his palms on his forehead. "Get away from me!"

"...Let Shipman Thomas Haine rest in peace. I speak for the body of the crew that survived. Godspeed Thomas Timothy Haine," the skipper’s voice continued.

His hands clutched his face. He heard a new sound. He heard the unmistakable sound of shovels penetrating the earth. The dirt bounced and scattered across something made of wood. Timothy believed he was being buried.

He staggered to the twelfth row. Four stones from the left he saw a simple rectangular stone. There were no flowers marking the grave. There were no symbols or flags flying over head. The stone was cracked along the top but the name was still clear. Thomas Timothy Haine, 1795-1822 in his 27th year.

That familiar back pain throbbed and pulsed as he felt his heart beat faster and his forehead moisten with sweat. The sound of the dirt diminished with each passing moment until it became a distant dull din. Finally it was gone. The whispers were gone. All was silent except for the chirping crickets that intruded the night air.

Timothy knew it was time to leave but he felt he could not. He had to stay. Buried under the uncut grass and moss were the remains of Thomas Timothy Haine, someone he knew as well as himself. It was a life that had come full circle, a reincarnation. This was where it all ended...or where it all begins.

"Damn Dr. Cabot," he muttered as he turned and walked away from the stone.

The End



(c) 1999 by Jeffrey J. Lyons