Doc knew he was dreaming. Ashby, Alabama didn't exist anymore, not like this. In front of him was the small town still nestled in the early sixties. Behind him hung an equally impossible mist marred only by a number of banners or flags. Without knowing why he strode forward into the town. Everything had a washed out quality as though color was as short in supply as prosperity and hope had been here. Richard didn't feel his feet cover the ground ahead or hear any thing at all.
He passed people in the street. Each went about their daily lives not noticing him at all. It was an idyllic place really. Poor hard working southerner, "salt of the earth types" was the common label them. Such people had seemed to disappear in the here and now leaving only the hopeless and shiftless wrecks of twenty first century. As Floyd pondered the people long gone he was startled by a change in view, place and time. Never knowing how he'd gotten there, he was now a mile or more from town.
No place on earth was more familiar and more distant at the same time to anyone than their childhood home. Marshal Floyd was a meaty man, full of muscle and laden with fat; his heart wouldn't let him live to see the end of the war that maimed his son. Still, in the here and now of the dream Richard's father was still strong and vibrant. Oil and muck covered his arms, sweat rolled off him in the Alabama heat. An excited squeal brought him to full attention as a little boy named after his great grandfather came bounding up to the tractor Marshal was working on.
Doc couldn't help himself; he ran over to the boy. He held his hand out as if to stop the child but he passed through his older self an on to his father. He turned to hear a conversation he still recalled clearly some six decades later.
"Daddy! Daddy!! Look what I did!" The little boy held up a rusty plank nail. The rough metal was bent in u-shape. Richard wasn't more than seven or eight at this time. Doc couldn't be quite sure anymore.
"Well son, let me look at that." The older man wiped most of the muck off his hands with a rag. His weathered face squished in concentration as he took the nail and examined it. "What have we hear? Did you find papa's lost needle nose?" The pliers had been missing for a week, never to be seen again but replaced soon after this.
"No..." " Now 'Richie' was unsure. His mother had told him to be honest but sometimes adults didn't see things in the magical light children did.
"So? What did you do?" Marshal imagined his boy bending it with a hammer or having just found it this way.
"I bent it."
"Ok, what tool did you use?" Richard was a smart boy in his father's biased opinion and had a great future as something. No tool in the house was safe.
"Umm...nofin..." He'd been so proud of himself for doing it. Belatedly he'd thought that his daddy might not believe him. Lying carried a stern punishment in the Floyd house.
"Nothin? I mean, Nothing?" Proper English was a dear thing to the Mrs. And no end of hell had been raised to speak right in her house. The boy just nodded. Marshal was good and confused now. He handed back the nail stood up and said, "Show me how you did it then." He expected to be shown something he'd stuck the nail in and pulled from to bend it. Anything like that would have been expected.
"Well?" They had just stood there looking at the nail for a while. Richard wasn't sure why daddy had stood up. Worst of all he realized it might not be a good idea to show his father what he'd done. So there they stood. His father's stare became more intense.
As Doc himself watched the scene unfold he felt a sense of dread. The boy held the nail out a bit and squinted his eyes.
The nail unbent.
Marshal sat back on his stool like a sack of potatoes. Just as quickly he stood upright and quickly looked around to see if anyone else had seen what he had. The elder Richard could no longer hear what happened then, it blurred and twisted as time flowed fast and slow in alternating bursts.
His father took him aside that day and spoke of a great war. The tales of Hitler's Germany and hate, prejudice and greed was almost more than the young boy could grasp. The older man assured his son that what ever he'd done would be understood. Younger Richard had assumed his father knew everything or all there was useful to know. It was frightening to learn otherwise. The unknown, he told his son, frightened people. Some fear turned to hate and hate always led fights.
Marshal had told him to never show anyone else, not even his mother what he could do. He'd even advised his son to try and forget it altogether. There was no telling what people might think or do about such a thing. Better to live quiet and normal he'd advised. Richard knew it wouldn't last. Not the child of course, in hindsight as he was now in this dream he knew the truth. He never discussed it with his father. Even after returning from that war, even though the power had saved his life, they never spoke of it again.
Black fabric unfurled in front of him. That past was cut off now. Doc turned completely about and looked around. Behind him the fog passed thicker still. A glance behind him revealed the farm once more. Time had changed it only a little. The tracks of a large truck passed on either side of Richards's feet as he walked towards the house. On small car was still in front of the house. It was his, he remembered it and knew what day this must be. Knowing what the dream wanted to show him; his feet crossed the house and went up to his old room in spite of themselves.
The door was open, his younger self on the edge of sleep. His parents had left their only son alone rarely since his return. War in Vietnam had cost him his arm. The scar was far fresher than now. The tissue was still loud and reddish across his chest and all but consuming the remainder of his arm. Even the burned area on his forehead was still bright and angry. Young Richard slept fitfully and sweated in the late morning rise of heat. Even as he watched the replay of events he could recall the soreness and burning pain that had woke him that day, just as his other self woke now.
His medication made him dehydrate easily and water was the first thought that made it past the pain and disorientation. Struggling to sit up with his left arm he reflexively reached for the water pitcher with his right. The stump of his bicep only crossed half that distance but the container cam anyway. It struck his wound with a painful thump and spilled all over the startled young man. Astonishment, rage and frustration rose like a tide swelling over the beached mind of Richard Floyd.
He'd had only a trickle of power prior to the moment his desperation had unconsciously used it to save his life. Before that it was sufficient to bend nails, spoons and tiny parlor tricks to amuse him. Now it broke like a storm washing over his mind. The wave spilled out and everything in the room began to move. Objects moved, lifted, bent and some even flew about the room. The sound of it was punctuated by screaming. Only the elder Richard knew it was his younger self screaming. Moments passed and the screaming stopped. Exhausted the young man had passed out.
The elder Richard turned back down the stairs, black flags unnoticed on either side. The walk was foggy again but he hardly noticed. The events leading up to this were clear enough. A land mine had taken his arm; it should have taken his life. Reflex of some kind had used the power stopped a round piece of metal from penetrating his skull. In hind sight he realized that he'd been doing such things all his life without thinking. Small injuries avoided, subdued and mitigated by tiny pushes one way or another. As he pondered these things he heard voices, a woman's and his.
Doc reached the bottom of the stairs as a more mature self than the last stood with the front door half open in his hand. A pretty woman spoke to him. The dreaming man bit his lip. His wife, his Brandy was here alive even if in a vision. She was heavier than when they'd married so this must be after their son had been born. Aside from that he could only stare at her and his phantom self.
"What do you do out there, Rich?" The only person to have ever called him that was Brandy and her brother Danny Graves. Her dark eyes and soft lips only betrayed a mild concern.
"Oh... You know, a little plant study and just taking in the fresh air" Richard practiced his power as a hobby. He hadn't really had the right way or time to tell his wife what he was. Partially afraid and ashamed; he'd naively assumed she'd care less for her husband. Ironically his obsession with it and study of it would become a gulf between them. Now it seemed innocently easy to lie and let her think what ever she wanted.
They would leave that house in the years to come. His practice in the small town he'd give over to a younger doctor. Atlanta would be welcome to both. A prosperous practice for Richard and a bustling new set of friends for both Brandy and Marshal. It had really been the psychological problems that led Doc to leave. He'd learned much and gotten better but that had led to SHOP. Looking up now the flags returned blocking all views out. When they moved the farm was empty.
The dream faded to fog again. Just before waking he could see the flags and banners now worn and tattered. The only one he could make out bore a red field and a black symbol, it was Japanese. It was one word, Chaos, Ran.
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