Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Grandpa's Tale

by Ben Revermann



"All right. Look, I'll give you one. You'll have to sneak outside to smoke it -- if you can ?- and I gotta say, I don't like the idea." He finishes by producing one cigarette from his pocket and lays it on the bedside table.

His Grandfather snatches it and hides it under his blanket.

"I'll leave a book of matches, but don't you dare say you got them from me."

"I won't, I promise," the old man grunts. "It's pretty sad that you make me beg." He quickly hides the matches as well. "I used to smoke two packs a day you know."

"That's probably why you're bedridden, Grandpa."

"Yeah, I know, dead before I could turn eighty," the old man said. "You know, our family has a history of longevity. Eighty's young by those standards. But I suppose you can't appreciate that, being only -- what are you now? Twenty-five?"

"I'm twenty-seven, Grandpa."

"Think you could turn up my oxygen a bit for me?"

"I guess I could do that. But don't light that cigarette anywhere near this stuff."

"I've been meaning to ask you sonny, why do you come here now? I know you started to because you thought I was loaded ... but why now?"

His grandson appears to think for a little while as he gazes out the window, then turns to him. "Honestly?"

"Of course"

"Well, I guess this place relaxes me."

"The old folks home?"

"Yeah, it's quiet here. And you're here, so I have a reason to come. I know everyone else in the family acts like they're so busy but most of 'em are at their respective homes just watching T.V."

"What will you do when I'm not here anymore?"

"I don't know, hadn't thought about it much. How long did the doctor say you had now?"

"Said I'd be lucky to last four weeks."

"That sucks. You really don't look so sick." The young man shook his head. "Two packs of cigarettes a day for fifty years and you end up with colon cancer."

"That's a joke I think God played on me," the old man said, glaring accusingly at the ceiling. "Brain's still sharp, lungs are fine, everything else in my body just up and quit."

"It's a mutiny."

"You could call it that." He pauses and squints at his grandson's silhouette in the sunshine. "Think you could close those curtains while you're at it? The bright light hurts my eyes."

"I can do that, Grandpa." The silhouette shifts and the blinding rectangle of light narrows and then vanishes.

"Your dad was born in Minneapolis, you know," the old man says.

"Dad wasn't born in Florida?"

"Naw, we thought we were gonna make it to Florida but he decided to pop out two weeks early. Cost a little bit more but that's the way it is."

"What was your hurry to get down here?"

"Job I had at the time transferred me to Sarasota, Florida. More money, more responsibility, plus your Grandmother was sick of the cold."

"Do we still have a lot of family in Minnesota?"

"Some," the old man says. "My dad only had one brother, and he didn't have any children. I was an only child, so our family stayed small. My uncle had a job working the shipping routes up and down the Mississippi. Growing up I thought he was the neatest person in the world. Used to come and visit us every time he came back north, brought glasses from New Orleans."

"Like prescription glasses?"

"No, the ones you drink from."

"Oh. That's pretty neat." With the curtain now shut they both sit in almost total darkness. The young man watches his Grandfather scratch his chin.

"Are your whiskers bothering you again? If you want, I could try shaving your face."

"Just forget it. Say, you're twenty- seven, you said, right?"

"Yep"

"If I remember right, your mom told me you were the one who likes ghosts and the pyramids and the Bermuda triangle -- or is that your brother?"

"No, that's me. Drove dad up the wall. Instead of an allowance I wanted books on ghosts and people who said they had telekinesis. He tried finding 'em for me but I always wanted more."

"Was that just a fad for you?"

"No, I go to the library every once and a while, and the book stores, try to find books on the stuff. I work a lot so I don't have so much time anymore."

"Yeah, be careful with that -- working so much, I mean. Sometimes you get so consumed with work you forget to live your life. Make time for other things, okay?"

"I will. Why you want to know about that?"

"Something that's been on my mind for a while, never talked about it much, two things actually."

"What's that?"

"Well, my grandpa, your great-great-grandfather, homesteaded some land in central Minnesota, near a town called New Munich. Ever hear of it?"

"You mean Munich, Germany?"

"No, New Munich in central Minnesota. It's mostly Germans up there. There are a lot of Roman Catholics. How about St. Cloud, ever hear of that?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Well, it's not too far west of there. Anyways he had about six hundred acres, mostly planted corn every year, switched over to soy beans occasionally. Worked that land from his early twenties till the day he died; never even thought about retirement. He died back in the forties. Was one of the first in that area to own a tractor, one of the first John Deeres to ever be made. He told me those other farmers bordering his land damn near killed themselves trying to keep up with him till they got their own. That was always his favorite story. But there was one story he told only me because he didn't want people to think he was crazy."

The old man pauses, not sure how to proceed. The grandson is curious, but knows better than to push him and risk a lecture on manners instead of some long-held family secret.

Finally, the old man began, "My grandpa said one day early spring -- he was pretty sure it was 1914 or 15, but those years sort of blurred together -- he was on the edge of his land where there was a giant oak tree. This little part of his acreage was as far away from his house as you could get and still be on his property. This one day he was busy planting and he sees this big oak tree and he stops and takes the tractor out of gear. You probably don't know but there's one thing a farmer doesn't do and that's stop till the work is done. You work sun up till sun down cuz' there's always something to do."

"Why'd he stop?"

"Sorry, I ramble a bit... He's sitting on his tractor and it's idling and he's staring at this tree. It's early morning and the sun's still to the east but the tree cast shadows to the west and east, like there was two suns shining on it."

"Grandpa, that doesn't make any sense."

"It didn't to him neither. He gets down and walks to the edge of shadow that should've been on the other side, then walks around it. Then he walks to the correct side of the tree where the shadow should be, and steps into that shadow. He looks through the leaves and sees the sun shining through 'em and decides that maybe the ground was wet or something on the east side and it just looked like the tree's shadow. So he leaves the woods and walks back into the field and looks around, hoping to see someone laughin' at him, sort of like a joke but the only thing he sees is his tractor runnin' faithfully and alone, that plus a giant shadow on the wrong side of the tree."

The grandson gets a little excited. "So, what, did he call the police?"

"Didn't have a phone but that didn't matter because at this point he can't decide what to do. For a lark, (his word not mine), he sticks his hand in and even though there was nothing to hide his hand from the sun it was suddenly in the shade, and then he got the feeling like the devil was looking over his shoulder. He told me he could never do it again but that day he did."

"Did what?"

"He pulled up his pants and stepped into the shadow. He walked slowly like when you walk into water that's cold and he watched it go up his legs as he walked, to his waist, then shoulders and finally his head."

"Did it kill him?"

"No, pay attention! This happened in 1914 or 15, he lived till the forties."

"So what happened?"

"Well, tractors were loud in those days but he got used to it when it ran for a while and he just tuned it out like white noise. But when his head entered the shadow on the wrong side he couldn't hear the tractor anymore, not a sound. He figured the engine must've stalled, or worse luck, run out of gas, so he turned in that direction -- and it was gone. He thought maybe someone had stolen it and rode off so he runs without thinking back towards it and as the shadow left him he saw the sun through the trees on the other side, to the west, like it was eight o'clock at night."

"I don't understand."

"Yeah, me neither. As he left the wrong shadow the tractor and the noise just appeared. Then he felt sick."

"Sick how?"

"Sick like he'd been on a bucking bronco or spun around too fast. He had to lay down in bed to rest for the remainder of the day, and he looked so green his wife even insisted she should try tilling some of the fields. He let her, but told her to stay away from that part of the land and as far as he knows, she did. A few days later he went out with an axe and chopped that tree down -- on a cloudy day when it had no real shadow -- and he didn't farm that plot of land that year."

"When did he tell you this?"

"I think I was ten at the time. I asked if I could go see where the tree was but he told me he sold that land ages ago. Even if he hadn't I don't think he would've shown me."

"So what the hell was it?"

"I have no idea. Neither did he and he had a lot more time to think about it."

"He didn't even have a guess?"

"In the few seconds he was in the shadow he thought that the leaves on the trees looked like they had a few weeks prior -- smaller, some still half furled -- but didn't know what to make of it."

"So like time travel or something?"

"He wasn't an imaginative man. If that's what he thought, he didn't tell me."

"Wow, that's really kinda cool."

"That isn't what I wanted to tell you about."

"It isn't?"

"No, I've been doing some reflecting and I remembered something that happened to me. It's not the same as what happened to him but I think everyone has at least one thing that they'll never be able to explain happen in their lifetimes."

"Something like that happened to you too?"

"It's like that only because I can't explain it, never will be able to -- not in the time I got left. Sure it's bothered me, but I learned to live with it."

"Okay," the grandson said, "I want you to know that you have my complete attention."

"You sure you want to know?"

"Don't toy with me, old man."

His grandfather chuckles for a moment. "All right. All right, then," he says. "My father, your great-grandfather moved to Melrose, Minnesota before I was born. He didn't want to be a farmer but he bought some land and we grew a few things but were close enough to the city limits that I was considered to be a city kid. Dad made most of his money working as a mechanic in town; your grandma did most of the farming."

"A woman farmer?"

"Not as big a deal as you'd think, given the time. When I got to be old enough dad said I could get a job but I'd have to give half my earnings to the family, which was all right."

"Bummer."

"I was fine with it. There was a man who'd taken over a restaurant right on main street in town. His name was Gene something or other. Called it 'Gene's Café', been open for a while when I started -- when I was sixteen, by the way. 1951 this was."

"Were you a cook or something?"

"Me and this other kid -- he was a year younger than me, so I called him a kid -- were the busboys. If it got to be too busy he and I would both be working, one of us would bus tables and the other would wash dishes. But let me tell you, old man Gene would only let that happen when it got to be busy as hell, and even then he would wonder why it still took two of us. Some nights I'd be so tired I'd fall asleep biking home after work and he'd still call me lazy. I got that job in June and worked there for the next two years but that summer ended pretty damn weird."

"Weird how?"

"Well, let's see, my dad told me that if I finished the tenth grade I didn't have to go to school anymore, but only if my grades were good. That would've been the last year I had to attend. So me and the other bus boy were excited that school was about to start, me cuz that's my last year, him because he liked the girls. It was officially my day to work but around lunch during the summer if it was my day he would hang around outside the kitchen door around lunch and dinner and if it got busy Gene would yell outside that we needed him and he would race inside and get to work."

"Makes sense I guess."

"Yeah, that day -- it was a Tuesday -- the other boy got called in and he had a big black eye. He told me his pa had given him a beating the night before because he got drunk and he'd been in his way. He asked me if I wouldn't mind bussing tables so he could hide in the kitchen. He didn't want anyone to see. He was always jealous that my old man didn't wail on me from time to time. I know a few times I had it coming but my dad didn't see the point I guess. So there I was, the lunch rush is just starting, the cheese plant right up the road is breaking for lunch and the turkey plant did at the same time so every day we got hit hard."

"So he just stayed and washed the dishes?"

"I bussed the tables, I didn't mind, but if I had a choice I woulda stayed in back washing. But he did have a good reason and I didn't put him down about it. The owner knew that I was the better washer and the other fella was better at collecting dirty dishes but when he saw his black eye he turned back to the stove and minded his own business for once."

"We only had one plastic tub for bussing and I grabbed it and got to work. Started off easy enough but pretty soon there's a line and no matter how many dishes I brought back to the kitchen there were ten tables waiting to be cleared. It being late August and all I was soon sweating through my shirt, so were all the customers. Air conditioning wouldn't become common for a few years yet and with the heat from the kitchen I wouldn't be surprised if it got to be a hundred and twenty degrees in there."

"It was like that all summer?"

"No, but sometimes the humidity got real bad, and most Minnesotans will tell you that it ain't the heat, it's the humidity. It'd rained a lot that month so that made it worse."

"So you're bussing tables."

"Yes, yes, so I'm bussing tables when these people come in, and the first thing I notice is that they're not dressed for summer weather."

"What do you mean?"

"I wouldn't say they were in snow jackets and winter boots but, if I had to guess I'd say they were dressed for early spring. Thicker coats and heavy shoes, defiantly not August wear, colors were too bright."

"Skin colors?"

"No, the color of their clothes was too bright, don't know how to say it any differently than that, they themselves were pale white. Their heads didn't go up and down when they walked either."

"I don't understand."

"When the average person walks, the head, well, the next time you're in the mall check out how a person in a wheelchair glides across the floor, then compare it to someone walking. You'll notice the difference."

The grandson walks across the floor to try it out himself as the grandfather nods.

"You see, when you walk your head bobs up and down just slightly, that's normal. These people's heads just glided through the air."

"Were there a lot of people?"

"There were three ladies, two guys and one little girl. I'd say the little girl was five or six. The rest of them could've all been twenty five. I looked down at their feet and it didn't look like they were lifting up off the floor."

"That's not all that weird, grandpa. Maybe they were just fooling around."

"That's not all," the old man said, annoyed by the interruption, but caught up in the memory. "Now I'm grabbing dishes and wiping down tables and trying to grab some ice water or a coke whenever I can cuz I'm runnin' the entire time. I'm doing my best to keep up, so I'm busy, but I keep noticing these people. They sat down in an empty booth; the little girl was against the wall, one man across from her. One lady was on the outside across from the other guy, the remaining two ladies were in the middle."

"You remember where they sat after, what, sixty-something years? How?"

"I just do I guess. I didn't see them order but they must've because after a while they had their food in front of them."

The old man is silent for a moment, and his grandson wonders if he has interrupted one time too many. But then his grandfather continues.

"The lunch rush took from about eleven thirty am till about two o'clock pm. I don't remember exactly what time they got there but I know the lunch rush had just started so I would say maybe eleven forty five. They left at about ten till two."

He pauses again.

This time it's long enough for his grandson to say something. "Grandpa?"

"The whole time they sat there they didn't talk."

"How did they order?"

"I didn't see them order the food. I didn't see them pay for it. And I didn't see them leave. But in order to get back to the kitchen I had to walk past them dozens of times, and not once were they talking."

"What were they doing?"

"They were just staring at each other. Eye to eye across the table at one another, even the little girl. The other four were eye to eye but the little girl had to look up into the eyes of the man across from her and he had to look down back at her."

"That's strange, I guess, but it's not a crime or anything."

"They kept their hands on their knees the whole time. All six had this little smirk, I kept thinking when I walked past them that one of their eyes would flicker over to me when I went by but that never happened. They just looked at each other and had that creepy half smile."

"Okay, that is weird."

"Now, remember that I didn't see them leave but I'd been waiting for it. I wanted to see that strange walk again but I was in and out of the kitchen so much that they were there one second and gone the next. I should've asked the other boy to take a look at them but I wasn't thinking, and plus I was busy. I kept shocking the bus boy."

"He was amazed by how hard you were working?"

The old man sighed. "No. When it gets real dry out there's more of a chance that you'll get a shock when you touch metal or someone else. It's like when you rub your feet on the carpet and then touch your brother like you used to do. That's the kind of shock I mean."

"Okay, I get you."

"In all that humidity I didn't think it was possible. My hair and shirt was wet from all the sweat, and the air was just short of qualifying as fog. But every time I bumped into the other bus boy we both got the biggest shocks we had ever felt. He thought I was doing it on purpose. He even turned to say something to me but he saw that my hair, even though it was wet, was standing up in all these places, I think it was too much static in the air. I thought I heard those people humming something but that's not right. The noise coming from them sounded like big machinery, muffled but big. Once when me and your grandma went to the Hoover dam we stood on the top of it and you could hear and feel the generators underneath us, I would compare it to that."

The young man frowns as he parses what his grandfather seems to be suggesting. "That's, that's just -- you're not making this up, are you? Teasing the -- well, to you, the kid?"

"You should know better than to ask me that."

"You're sure it wasn't just people messing with you."

"I tried to comfort myself by thinking that, but then Gene barked at me to clear their table after they were gone and I high-tailed it over there, I just stopped and stared at the table, open mouthed."

"What was there?"

"Their food was there."

"So?"

"So it was all white from being frozen. The mist coming off of that food was incredible. You would've had to have been there but it actually brought the temperature of the restaurant down a few degrees."

"Wait, I'm confused. If they were there for two hours in that heat the ice in their glasses would've melted."

"The ice was long gone. There were puddles of condensation from the glasses all over the table soaking the napkins -- but those were frozen too. And I don't mean that everything on that table had been in the freezer for an hour, I mean it was damn cold, frozen solid. When that waitress had brought out the burgers they were brought out with the bun on the patty half ways so that if the customer wants to put ketchup and mustard it's easier. It was so cold I couldn't get the bun off the plate. I got freezer burn on my fingers from where I touched it."

"All right Grandpa, let's say it was frozen. How would these guys have been able to freeze it without you or anyone seeing it?"

"I went into the kitchen with another load of dishes, I unloaded, came out and those people were gone and everything was frozen. It took less than thirty seconds for me to make my way out there, it happened that fast."

"No one saw them do it? Why didn't you just run outside and ask them what they did?"

"Because no one saw them leave, they were just gone, poof, into thin air. At the time there were only a few choices for drinks. You could get Coke, 7-Up or a cherry soda, milk or water. Our restaurant was a little different because we mixed the Coke and cherry soda so you could have cherry coke, which was rare."

"That's cool, I guess."

"Yeah, anyways, they all had Cokes and even though it was watered down soda it was darkly frozen. Do you know those straws that bend at the top, with the little crinkles in the plastic?

"Sure, flexi straws or bendy straws or something."

"That's them. I took the towel I was using to wipe the tables down after I had cleared them."

His grandson nods.

"I picked up one of the drinks by the straw using the towel because it was so cold and for the moment the straw held, I could lift the drink upside down like a popsicle. Then the straw shattered and the drink fell to the floor."

"Did the soda shatter, because of the cold?"

"Nope, it was too cold, just fell to the floor with a big thump. I stood there looking down at the table trying to wrap my mind around this thing till the owner yelled at me, I jumped when he did. I know that sometimes a sixteen year old boy needs to be told to get back to work but when I saw that table I got scared and when he yelled I jumped.

"He asked me what was wrong and I started to point to the table. He came out of the kitchen which didn't happen very often. He came drying his hands on his apron and he was about to yell till he saw the table too. He looked at me and I could see that all the anger had gone out of him, "What did you do?" he asked me, but I could see he was more curious then mad.

"Then the waitress walked up and asks where those people went, 'The ones with the little girl'.

I told her I thought she knew."

"What did she say?"

"I remember at the time during the lunch rush she said, 'Those people are creepy.' She said this to one of the other waitresses not me, but when I asked her how they ordered their food she didn't remember, at all.

"Gene was still shocked into silence and without thinking he grabbed one of the plates. Right away, he yelled and dropped the plate and backed up holding his hand and looking at his fingers, the skin on which had turned purple -- from frost bite.

"The sheriff had been eating at the counter;, he walks up, his belly bulging from the six or so burgers he had eaten, free of course. He said, "Damn kids, always playing tricks!" He's looking at me while he says this.

"Gene told him there's no way it was me. Said those people were haunted or spooks or something."

"So the law got involved?"

"The Sheriff wasn't a brave man. Once he heard 'spooks' he said he had to go handle some real serious business, not fuss about some prank. Then he left near as fast as the strange family must have.

"Gene told me to clear the table, not to touch the stuff with my bare hands. I cleared it fast as I could while Gene had his hand wrapped up by one of the waitresses, I didn't tell him about my freezer burn. I tried to scrape the ice that was still on the table but ended up breaking the putty knife I was using. Gene told me to grab one of those painting sheets from the back and cover the table with it, no one will sit there for the rest of the day."

"Didn't anyone ask about the sheet?"

"If anyone did I didn't hear about it. I started to ask Gene about it the next day but he shushed me, said 'You didn't see anything yesterday, and neither did I.' The other boy I was working with thought it was cool because when he sprayed the frozen dishes it made cool steam so thick in the kitchen you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, but the next day he said he'd been told not to talk about it either."

"Because he was shushed too?"

"I don't know. There was a guy who would come for the lunch rush and sit most of the afternoon drinking coffee. He was a lonely guy who would sit up at the counter and watch people come in. I asked him what he thought of those people and he didn't remember them either, supposedly."

"Yeah, I bet he didn't," the grandson says sarcastically.

"I worked the rush the next day even though I had it off. The other kid still had a shiner so I was back bussing tables and I asked some of the people I knew had sat close to them but they didn't remember them either. After that I gave up asking. I met your grandmother a few days later and we started dating -- and I forgot about them too."

"If you forgot about them, how come you're telling me about it now?"

"I worked there for the next two years. In my last six months I was bumped up to cook and I just forgot about them. The year I left it changed owners and became Del's Café, few years after that Joyce's Café. A long time later we were living in Minneapolis. Your grandma and I took your daddy who was still pretty young back to Melrose to visit some friends on a Sunday and we ate there. I would've forgotten about it completely but we sat in that same booth and it all came rushing back to me."

"How could all those people not remember them -- a family that moves like it's on wheels, that that charges up the air like one of those Frankenstein movie machines, that freezes their table solid, then vanishes?"

"I don't know. Fear, maybe? They say the mind blocks out what it can't handle."

Both sit in silence for a while and reflect on what's been said till the grandfather speaks.

"So, what do you think?"

"Honestly Grandpa, I don't know. You must have some idea of who they were, anything."

"I didn't want to taint your thoughts on this."

"I have a few."

"And they are?"

"Well, first I would try the logical approach."

"Right..."

"They were people who had just gotten done with a funeral. They thought they were hungry till they ordered, then lost their appetites and left."

"Makes sense."

"But even people who are in mourning get thirsty, and it's a hot and humid summer day. People who are just getting done with a funeral don't wear bright clothes. They don't smile either. I can't stop thinking about that little girl, or the ice, it all sounds so impossible."

"I think so too."

"I think they were aliens. What do you think was the deal?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that there was something weird going on, and you must at least have some idea?"

"I would like to tell you something, but you're never going to get the answer you want. Just like I never got the answer I wanted."

"And what answer is that?"

"Any answer would do! When I remembered it years later I started asking around work if anyone had seen something like that, or heard of it, before or since. I thought maybe there was some weird cult or club who play pranks like that but no one had ever heard of anything?"

"So that's that then."

"Yep."

"Well that sucks. Why the hell did you tell me that story?"

"Thought you might like to know about it is all."

"Well I don't like it -- being full of questions that I have no way of answering."

"There is a good thing I hope you take away from this."

"Which is?"

"Something like that happens to everyone, I believe. Something unexplainable or strange. My hope is that when it happens to you you'll remember it. The mind sometimes chooses to forget certain things if you can't figure them out. A woman told me once she saw a guy sink into the ground out in the middle of the woods, just as if he were riding in an elevator. She said he didn't know she was there and that he did it on purpose. Northern Minnesota this was."

"What was that all about?"

"She didn't know, saw it when she was a little girl, scared her so much she ran two miles till she was home and hid under her bed. Her daddy had to crawl under there and drag her out. She didn't remember it till I told her about my restaurant people. Anything like that ever happen to you?"

His grandson starts to think but stays quiet.

"Come to think of it," he starts to say, but his cell phone rings. He answers it, then quickly hangs up. "Sorry grandpa, I gotta go. I'll be back in a couple of days."

"Okay. Mull it over and get back to me."

"I will."

The young man leaves the room with his grandfather sitting in bed and walks down the hall. He's late for a lunch date, but his grandfather's story has stirred a memory from his college years. He had been driving the back roads late at night to avoid a traffic jam, when ...

The End


© 2012 Ben Revermann

Bio: Ben Revermann lives in southern Minnesota. He is currently in college and working on his Associate’s Degree. This will be his first time being published, with another story still in the works.

E-mail: Ben Revermann

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