One day as Stella was walking along a sidewalk in S.L.O., she saw an old man who looked familiar. She knew someone like him once, a very long tyme ago. The old man saw Stella and went over to talk to her.
Stella smiled and looked at the old man with a sad smile.
"Stella? Don't you have a kiss, hug, or even a handshake for your father?"
"I'm sorry. My parents died a long tyme ago. To me you look like my late father's twin brother. I never knew much about his past family history. He could've had a twin brother. I mostly knew about his wives family tree.
"It's funny. About the only good area of that family tree was the relatives that lead to Johnny Cash and the music area. Naturally everyone else thought that part of the family tree was the most embarrassing. No, no, they'd much rather take pride in having a lot of rapists, murders, horse thieves and various other criminals gracing their family tree. As far as I was concerned, the past relatives are all dead. Especially, but not limited to, the immediate family. The parents died soon after I was born.
"I'm sorry if that hurts you, but it's the only way I could adjust to having left as I did."
"Why, Stella? What was so bad that you had to go into such a reclusive hiding? Will you come back now?"
"I doubt that you'd be capable of ever understanding why I had to leave."
"Please try. It's been so long, and I never knew your side of the story. It hurt to be treated so callously without never knowing why."
Stella looked at the old man with a sad compassion.
"Then you'd better sit down. Please don't interrupt or ask any questions until I finish. I know that much will make you angry."
"All right. I know something very bad went wrong. I didn't know what to do to make it any better."
"Very well. I'm sure you remember when you got very ill when I was small. As I recall, you were terrified that if you spoke that whatever you said would come out wrong. It was your belief that your wife would have you locked up then because you were crazy." "Yes, I remember."
"It was after that tyme that your wife took more of a firm control over everything. My life was made worse because of it. Your wife convinced you that you lost a lot of intelligence because of the illness. She really did a great snowjob on you. I couldn't even talk to you any more. Nothing much above small talk, anyway.
"I don't know if you noticed, but I was depressed a lot. It wasn't just the drugs I was given that made me depressed. I was alone and forever unloved. Your wife used to tell me all kinds of horror stories about how she got rid of the third child she carried. Naturally she performed the mental tortures on me when no one else was about. Including yourself. Naturally everything I tell you will be denied. Once again I will be considered as the liar, the tall teller, and so on. Rest assured it's the truth as I know it. The only thing is I may have left some things left out."
"No, you're wrong. It was a problem with the drugs. You weren't responsible for that. We tried to have the drugs adjusted so you wouldn't be subject to such depression."
"That's another thing. Did you ever know why I was truly put on those drugs? It had nothing to do with the basement fall."
"Then what was it?"
"The drugs were to keep me quiet. Your wife told me that she had her family. I was an intruder, and she nor the other two kids wanted anything to do with me. After all, that's why she killed the third child and made sure it'd be stillborn. When I grew to an age where I could start getting around, your wife threw me onto the cement floor in an attempt to kill me. Since that didn't work, I was put on drugs. Did you notice how the doctors refuse to listen to the patient and only to the spouse or guardian? Your wife furnished those doctors with lots of wild tales about me. All of them lies, but enough to keep me sedated and quiet. So what if I was overdosed? I was of no consequence. I had the audacity to survive when I shouldn't have. So I deserved all I got.
"I doubt you'd believe me, but many of the 'accidents' were suicide attempts to try to end the pain if having to deal with the horrors of living with your wife's continual tortures. I know that the source of my suicidal attempts was having to live in the life I had to endure.
"Did you ever stop to wonder why I made myself so scarce all those years? I loved being outside, but that wasn't all there was to it. I had to avoid the tortures. I never wanted to be in your wife's company, even if someone else was around.
"It was ironic that I was the unwanted child, because your wife did everything she could to make sure that I could never leave home because I'd be so handicapped with all the drugs and injuries she caused. Don't think for one moment that I was left normal after the cement 'accident.' And don't try to tell me it wasn't an accident. I remember parts of it. Enough to know it was no 'accident.' No, I can't prove it, but I know why I could never even tolerate your wife after that. In the event that you never noticed, there was only fear there. No love. For appearances sake, I acted certain ways when I had to. I was afraid even then that if I didn't your wife would torture me worse than she was already.
"I know it's all new to you. It gets better, believe me. The horrors didn't end there.
"What happened, Stella? I knew your mother was capable of cruelty, I never knew she was actually taking it out on anyone."
"Yes, you knew. You just turned a blind eye to it all. You didn't want to have to deal with what was really going on. You wanted to maintain your reality that everything was fine. That's why you lost me."
"I don't know what to say, really. I never would've allowed it to happen had I known." "You did know, and you refused to believe it. That was the reality. That's all bad water under the bridge now, anyway. Now if you want to know why I left, say nothing more, because if you keep interrupting me, I'll leave."
"Okay, the floor's yours. I'm sorry. Please go on."
"The day came when I was to meet a boyfriend who would be tenacious enough later that I would be able to escape the old family life. Yes, I refer to my husband. Tyme went by, and then Joe left. I doubt he would've had he known what your wife was capable of doing.
"Some tyme before Joe left, his mother kicked him into the street. I couldn't allow Joe to have to live in his pickup. For the first tyme I used my authority as a one half owner and insisted that Joe live with me. Your wife didn't like this, and that's when she started putting together a plot that even I didn't want to recognize as true. Alas, reality cannot be ignored unless you want to be the loser. A hard lesson you had to learn, yourself.
"I mentioned your fear of being locked up had you tried to say anything back in Spokane. Well, your wife was working on a way to have me locked up for being crazy. No, say nothing. I can't prove it, because it never happened. I barely escaped, as it was. "Think about it. Your daughter, Lyndee, was pretty loose. She used to brag about the doctors she slept with.
He was shocked to hear Stella speak so. "I never heard anything like that!"
"No, you didn't. Lyndee kept her mouth shut whenever you were around and could possibly hear. She confined it to telling your wife. Since I was of no consequence, it didn't matter if I was around to hear it or not.
"It was your wife's intention to have Lyndee get hold of some PCP to scramble my brains, blackmail a couple doctors into signing a form having me committed. The doctors would've done anything to keep Lyndee from telling the wives about the affairs. The brother and I never got along, and he would've loved having the chance to keep me so sedated I would never be coherent. Certainly never enough to be able to defend myself, explain the trickery. Again, such conversations were held when you were never around, so you couldn't 'accidentally' overhear.
"You wonder how I knew about that one. For one, there was a doctor who used to run on the beach with me. He didn't know who I was. After a while, I told him who I was. He warned me that sometymes it's best to make a major change in order to avoid a worse outcome.
"Rumors were going throughout the hospital about the sister and blackmailing a couple doctors to sign some papers. No one was really sure what they were for, but that doctor found out after he talked to me for a while. He found out that a plot was going on behind my back.
"The brother never could keep a secret very well. When he was told of his role, he told your wife how a patient who was very intelligent had his brains scrambled by 'accidentally' drinking some punch loaded with PCP. Now he's permanently damaged, and always sedated to keep him calm. I was there when the brother told the story to a few others, and looked at me with that stupid knowing look as if to say it'd be me soon as well.
"Joe was gone, I couldn't reach you. All you would've done is tell it all to your wife, who would console you to your fantasy reality, then come after me with a stronger wrath than she had already. I could say nothing to anyone who wouldn't repeat it all to your wife. I was in danger and I could turn to no one for help. I therefore kept myself as far away from your wife as possible, certainly when there were no others around. I knew it'd just be a matter of tyme before your wife got the idea of sneaking into the room as I slept, restraining me then having me sedated and shipped off to the State Hospital.
"Sound too far fetched? That's what I kept telling myself for years, but reality will be denied at a heavy penalty if you ignore the truth. When Joe returned, I was relieved. Finally I had someone on my side who would listen and notice if I disappeared all of a sudden. Regardless of whether or not I loved Joe, I knew that I had to leave the old life. I didn't want to give up the active life I lead. I still miss it a lot. Even then, I knew that my days were numbered when I started. All things come to an end one way or another. So I left my active life for a more sedate life in order to avoid a fate worse than death.
"Now you know. Mayhap you don't remember how your wife was talking about buying up the property in Adelaide? Isn't it strange that it was never mentioned again after Joe returned? It was her intention for me to be taken to a remote place, unable to escape. With no one to hear my screams, I'd be hauled away.
"I used to pity you, but I don't really. You knew what you were doing when you married. You knew what your wife was like. You may wonder why I refuse to call her mother. Because my mother, and my father, are both dead. They were replaced by insects who treated me like an intruder with no love. Only fear.
"I don't care if you believe me or not. It doesn't matter anymore. The past is gone. Neither you nor I can change it. As for me going back, there's no way I'll ever want to go back, even if I knew your wife was truly dead.
"Will you send some thugs out after me now? Will I have to worry about looking over my shoulder because you have a contract out on me? I know how well the truth hurts. Sometymes it's the only way you can force someone to face reality.
"I tried to write you once. I told you that I could never trust you again after what happened. I can't, either. In all those years I grew up to be a suspicious cynic. Or as the Moody Blues so call someone like me, a Melancholy Man. I know you never liked the music I played. I can tell you that even today I couldn't talk without those songs forever playing in my head.
The old man looked at Stella with a deep sadness.
"Poor Stella. I never knew. But you're right. I would've just turned around and told your mother-my wife, about all you told me. If you were right, it would've been worse then. I can't believe that she would've done all those things."
"Yes, I know. I tried to deny them all, even when the evidence was staring me in the face. No one wants to believe their parents are so vile, no matter how bad they are. When something happens like that, it's very bad. The worst crime of all.
"I asked many tymes why I wasn't adopted out to some family who wanted me. I was told that if that happened then you would lose your job in the military, because the base commander was a strong family man. Then if you were discharged with dishonor, you'd have a hard tyme ever getting a job anywhere else.
"So we were forced to raise you. Rather, my wife was."
"Exactly. Many tymes I wished I hadn't survived that basement fall. No one should have to live through the horrors as I had. At the same tyme, I know that what happened to me was nothing compared to what others had to live through, and still do. Not to mention all those yet to be born.
"I once thought I could at least count on you, but that died as your wife took more control over the family life all those years ago.
"It's funny. I once wrote to the Moody Blues fan club via an address on the back of one of their old CD's. It was some years after I was no longer a part of the family. I got a response or two. No, not in a letter. In a few songs. 'Highway' was one of the songs, released on Tyme Traveller, and the solo album of Justin Hayward called 'View From The Hill.' You know what I'd tell him now? It's too late. Mayhap for Hayward things are never too late. For me it's another matter. Just like trying to start all over and have you a part of my life again. It's too late for anyone like me or you now. I'll never trust anyone from the past. Why should I allow my most bitter enemies to become a part of my life again? So they can eventually kill me or lock me away as they originally planned all those years ago before I managed to escape? You can thank your wife for teaching me the art of becoming a suspicious cynic. Once any doubts start, that's it.
"So I ask you again. Will you have me killed now? Will I have to look over my shoulder wondering when one of your thugs will do me in? Will you have me followed when I leave here? I know you're curious about my whereabouts. I must remain in hiding, even so. It's too dangerous for you to know where I am. Once your wife finds out, and I'm sure she would, I'd be dead. Even if she-he were dead, it wouldn't matter. A lot of money was made by having stolen it from me. That's one of the most compelling reasons why your wife wanted me locked up. Don't you see? If I married, I'd have more credibility. I'd be more likely to come back and want my share. I was told more than once that I would receive half of all of the property investments that were made. An obvious lie. Did you know that the drugs had a side affect of hypnosis? Your wife sure knew.
Very calmly Stella managed to get the last words out. Inside Stella was screaming in agony. A massive war was going on inside her head, and it was taking all of Stella's control to say the rest that followed.
"Now when I walk out of that door, I don't want you or anyone else to follow me. Just let me go. The past is dead. If there's anything you could possibly do for me now, it's try to make sure that no one else in your life will suffer the abuses as I did. Your wife hasn't softened. No one ever does. They just get more like themselves. Be careful. Especially of anything you say to her, and especially regarding me. Like I tried to tell you so long before, I will be made out as a liar, an incompetent, and someone to avoid. At the same tyme your wife would love to have me killed. She'll needle you until you tell her everything you know about me. I therefore cannot give you my address if for only your own safety."
"Will I ever see you again, Stella?" The old man was almost in tears. The sadness on his face was great.
"I doubt it. Only by accident, if that. I can't afford to have the past brought back to me like this. You'll never know how much it takes out of me to even talk this much to a ghost from my past. I have to maintain that the parents are dead. You can't bring back the dead. It may be for the best if you think of me as you long ago deceased daughter."
"Come to think of it, I would've been as good as dead anyway had your wife managed to have me committed."
Stella got up and walked out of the store where she escorted the old man who resembled her father so closely.
Stella looked around her as soon as she left the store. She could see some thugs hanging around nearby, chatting and trying to look innocent. Stella went the opposite way. She walked down a few blocks randomly. Sure enough, the thugs were following her. Stella went over to her car when the coast was clear. She saw no one around at the tyme, so she got in her car and drove off. She kept a lookout for any cars, determined the coast was clear, and drove on. She didn't stop anywhere near her hometown, just in case she was being followed. She went up the coast for a while.
When Stella decided to leave, she was getting ready to drive off when she saw the thugs she thought she lost. Stella got out of her car and went over to talk to the thugs.
"Didn't I see you in S.L.O.?"
"Yeah, that was us."
"What are you doing here? Are you following me?"
"Sort of. We were hired to be the bodyguard of the old man. He's been afraid of his wife for some tyme now, and we were hired to protect him against all harm. Then when we saw you we followed you to find out some more information."
"Well, there's nothing I can tell you except that you just left the old man defenseless against his wife and you'd better get back before something bad happens to him. Then it'll be on your head. You won't live long after that, I'm sure. Someone very rich and powerful wants that old man alive. If he dies because of negligence that you could've prevented, a contract will be out on you. I suggest that you get back there before you're missed."
The thugs were getting more alarmed as they listened. Sure enough, when Stella finished talking, the thugs ran to their car and took off fast.
Stella waited a few minutes, made sure the coast was clear, and took off for home. She felt that she scared the thugs enough that the Butchdyke wouldn't hear a word of the last conversation the old man had with Stella. The thugs will be too interested in covering up their asses. To admit to abandoning the old man to follow Stella would infringe on their job security. They'll never breathe a word of the last conversation between Stella and the old man. As Stella went home, she couldn't help feeling a little more relieved at having had the conversation with the old man. She didn't have to kill anyone to ensure their silence.