Finally Free – Part 9 – The Finale (3 words – 2/14/16)

“Beth, your brother is here to see you.”

I could hear the voice gently letting me know that I had company. But I was too tired to even open my eyes.

They were talking, but I couldn’t make out much more than just the basics about me being shared. Words like “devastating wounds,” “stunning recovery so far,” “long way to go,” and “amazing will to live” were what I could decipher. Everything seemed mumbled and disjointed.

I heard a chair being moved closer to my bed then felt a man’s hand take mine in his.

The breath on my ear made my heart freeze. I just knew it was him. I struggled to open my eyes and did all that I could to move. His hand quickly covered my mouth and nose as he whispered in my ear, “I told you you’d never escape me.”

Tears streamed from my eyes. I was powerless to move. All I could do was watch as he took the syringe from his pocket and readied himself to inject something into my IV. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. This will be quick. Just a little potassium chloride.”

He bent to kiss my lips as he pushed the plunger on the syringe.

The pain was excruciating as if my heart dropped out of my chest.

Then I felt nothing.

THE END.

 

 

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Finally Free – Part 8 (3 words – 2/13/16)

Taking a deep breath I continued. “My dog, Angel, truly was just that. She did all she could to keep me safe from him. It broke my heart when I had to leave her behind. I was so afraid for her. That’s how he was able to get to me. He knew I’d want her back – specially since I hadn’t seen her in ages. He knew where I lived, so he showed up at my place saying that she had gotten hurt and he needed me to go with him to the vet. I knew I shouldn’t trust him. I absolutely knew better, but he had a whole act going on. He was crying, shaking, and couldn’t seem to keep his thoughts straight. All I can guess now is that he was nervous and was probably on some sort of drug.”

The nurse walked around the bed to check my IV and all of the machines I was hooked up to. I could hear from the monitor that my heart rate was way up. I closed my eyes for a moment trying to calm my thoughts and my body.

“When I got into the car, he leaned over as if to get something out of the glove compartment and stuck a needle in my thigh. I don’t really remember anything after that until I woke up tied to a table.”

I began to shake uncontrollably. The nurse ran out of the room and shouted something I couldn’t quite understand. The doctor moved to the head of my bed and busied himself with the machines and IVs. The police officer quickly stood and moved his chair out of the way as the nurse ran back in with a syringe and another IV bag.

“Take a deep breath, Beth. You’ll be okay.” The nurse used her most reassuring voice, but that sent me into an even worse panic. Gasping for breath, I welcomed the oxygen mask she quickly placed over my nose and mouth. “Don’t worry. We gave you something to sleep,” were the last words I heard her say.

to be continued…

 

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Finally Free – Part 7 (3 words – 2/12/16)

 

The silence in the room was broken only by the sound of the machines beeping away. I looked from one face to the next waiting to see which of them would ask the first question.

The nurse had her head down and as best as I could tell, her eyes were closed and her brow furrowed.

The doctor just stared at me with concern. I could tell he was stunned and, if I wasn’t mistaken, angry.

The younger of the two policemen looked at the wall above my head. His face blank; his jaw clenched.

The older policeman sat in the center of the four and simply returned my glance with no emotion.

“Ms. Bayard, I can only imagine some of things you have endured. Can you please provide us with your ex-husband’s name and address?”

As I gave him all of my tormentor’s information without emotion, I watched as both police officers wrote quickly. As soon as all I answered all of the questions about him, the older policeman gave a nod to his partner who quickly left the room.

“Thank you. Are you feeling strong enough to continue?”

I nodded in response and looked from the nurse to the doctor to confirm that they’d allow me to continue. When they both returned my look with a slight shrug, I replied, “For now, yes.”

“Okay. Let’s start at the beginning. What kind of relationship did you have with him?”

I took a deep breath and began. “He was the most wonderful man when we met, but after we married it all changed. I didn’t notice the little things that he did to control me until it was too late. He began to prevent me from seeing friends. He’d listen in on telephone conversations. He just made it difficult for me to have a life outside of our relationship. He wasn’t abusive until the last year. When a black eye finally made people notice, I left. With only the clothes on my back. I even left my dog behind. The dog he had bought for me right after we got married. The dog was my protector, my best friend, and she definitely took the brunt of his sickness.”

to be continued…

 

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Finally Free – Part 6 (3 words – 2/11/16)

I closed my eyes tight and thought of nothing except the air coming into and going out of my lungs. This disassociation I had taught myself had helped me survive for those long, tortuous weeks. I knew it would help me get through these interviews. I continued to breathe slowly and deeply until my heart was calm and my muscles relaxed.

“Ms. Bayard? Are you okay?”

I felt the nurse’s cold hand gently grasp my wrist and I found myself smiling. A gentle touch was certainly an unexpected surprise. Slowly opening my eyes, my smile widened at the concern look on her face. “Yes, I am. Thank you. I just needed to take a breath.”

I looked over at the police officers, smiling slightly, I reassured them, “I will do my best to answer any questions you have today. I just can’t promise that I’ll be able to tell you much.”

“Thank you. We will try to start slowly. I’m afraid that our questions will, most likely, take several days. We will do our best to make this a comfortable discussion.”

“I understand.” I looked down and adjusted the thin hospital blanket to make sure I was covered. More to increase my sense of security than out of any thought of modesty.

“Thank you. These first few questions are about him. We need any information you can provide that would help us find him.” The lead policeman accepted a chair pushed through the doorway and seated himself an unimposing distance from my bed.

My eyes met his with a strength I hadn’t felt in years. “I can tell you whatever you want to know. I knew exactly who he is. I was married to him for 5 years.”

 

to be continued…

 

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Finally Free – Part 5 (3 words – 2/10/16)

I wish I could say I slept well and deeply, but my dreams were nonstop and always disturbing. Yet, when I awoke, I couldn’t remember any specifics. But the feelings of being terrified, alone, and brutalized continued to stab the back of my consciousness.

I was alone in the room. For that I was beyond thankful. Judging by the soreness of my throat, I was sure that I had been screaming in my sleep. The red marks on my wrists showed me that they had restrained me at one point or another. I wasn’t surprised. After the time he kept me captive, screaming in my sleep and hospital wrist restraints were a walk in the park.

The machines beeping away by my head drew my attention. I looked back and noticed that they had removed one of my IV bags while I slept, but I still felt the chilly sensation of medication flowing into my veins.

I studied the room I was in and memorized every corner, every tile in the ceiling. I easily realized that I was high off the ground. Yet, the clouds were moving so slowly and I only saw a few airplanes. It was eerily peaceful outside which led me to thinking that it almost looked staged.

A sound drew my attention back to an odd diagonal wall next to my door that had a window in it. A curtain was closed so I could not look out, but I was sure that it opened directly into the nurses’ station.

As I was studying the window, the curtain moved slightly and a woman’s face peered in at me. Before the curtain closed again, my door opened and in walked in a doctor, a nurse and two policemen.

“Ma’am, we’d like to ask you a few questions.” The older of the two policemen met my eyes with an unwavering stare. “I promise we won’t take too long today. I’m sure you understand we need to speak with you.”


to be continued…

 

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Finally Free – Part 4 (3 words – 2/9/16)

“Well hello, sleepy head.”

The cheerful voice was a shock to my system. So accustomed I had become to anger and hate-filled words. As I analyzed every inch of the nurse’s features, I felt tension leaving me.

“How long have I been here?”

“Just overnight so far.” She was busy checking my IV lines and writing down whatever she learned from my monitors. “A lot of people have been looking for you. We’re all so glad you are here.” She stopped momentarily and the pained look in her eyes was one I’m sure I’d become accustomed to eventually. Pity. Uncertainty.

Even I didn’t know everything I had endured. Often I passed out while he “experimented” on me. That’s what he called them – “experiments.”

“Sit still or I will make this hurt. This is critical information for my experiment.”

“Just a few more pokes and the experiment will be done for now.”

“I learned something interesting from you yesterday. I can’t wait until I can share my experimentation with my colleagues.”

“You have no idea how important you are to this experiment.”

What seemed like compliments as I endured torturous treatment were the only things I could hold on to. He knew exactly how to keep me alive and somewhat cooperative. The little tidbits implying that I meant something were clung to like life preservers.

“Honey, are you okay?”

I broke out of my thoughts and looked at her. She couldn’t hide her shock at my expression and quickly diverted her eyes to my IV lines again.

“I lost your attention for a moment there.” She met my eyes briefly as she gathered her papers and prepared to leave the room. “Can I get you anything?”

“No. Thank you. I just want to rest.”

Her forced smile made my fears tickle the back of my consciousness. “Okay. I gave you something to help you sleep, but if you need anything, just push the buzzer.”

 

continued…

 

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FINALLY FREE – Part 3 (3 WORDS – 2/8/16)

 I felt myself falling and jolted awake. My eyes snapped open and focused on the ceiling above me as I tried to catch my breath. The pain in my chest was not as bad as it had felt before, but I knew the sudden move hadn’t helped my healing.

The brightness of the room assured me that my rescue was not a dream. I was no longer a captive. No longer part of someone’s sickness. I could feel my heart slowing as I looked around the room. A hospital room. Clean. Bright. Safe.

I wondered how long I’d been here. At least the rapid beeping of one of the machines assured me that I was awake and my heart was working just fine. I knew all too well how much I needed to be here. I had no idea what my body looked like inside or out.

Taking a deep breath while trying not to expand my ribs too much, I closed my eyes to try to comprehend the series of events that had brought me here.


continued…

 

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Finally Free – Part 2 (3 words – 2/7/16)

A few familiar faces were in the crowd, but I couldn’t find the one I had prayed for, the one that filled my dreams.

I slowly let the voices around me seep into my consciousness. At first all I could distinguish was the urgency with which they spoke. I only cared that I was free, yet they had an endless amount of questions about the weeks I was missing.

“How were you taken?”

“What were you fed?”

“Were you beaten?”

“What did he tell you?”

“Did you think you could survive?”

The combination of the pain in my lungs, the cacophony of voices, and the crowd of people pressing in on me were simply too much. I felt a sharp pain in my chest and fell to the ground as the blackness swept over me.

continued…

 

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Cross posted on my author’s site – And Then What Happened?

 

 

Finally Free (3 words – 2/6/16)

 

I was overwhelmed with pain as my lungs expanded and filled with the fresh air. I had been breathing that stale, putrid air for far too long. I knew it would take time to clear my body and mind of all that I had endured. I had anticipated the process, but had never imagined the pain. Every move I made away from my prison brought more physical pain, but somehow provided strength.

I knew I was surrounded by people who were offering help and accolades for surviving the way I did. I knew this was a new start for me; a new beginning I wasn’t sure I’d be given. I needed time. I needed time to think, to heal, to process all that I had been through. The crowd of people was too much, so I blocked them out much as I had blocked out my environment for so long.

I focused on searching the crowd looking for the one face I had hoped would be there. The person I had dreamt about every night during my captivity. The one presence that always brought me a sense of peace.

I hoped he knew I was finally free.

continued…

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Just for fun: It was a Dark and Stormy Night (or Oscar’s Annual Vacation)

This is a “just for fun” story I had written with a colleague and friend several years back. I received his permission to load this onto my site. It was a tag-team project that we wrote over a period of several days. I’ve made a few edits, but have kept the integrity of it. Thank you to Russ for the inspiration!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Day 1

It was a dark and stormy night. What else could it be? Oscar had just begun his summer vacation. He knew that with the looming typhoon the crops would be watered and whole towns would be swept away over the next 7 days. It was just his luck.

His co-workers had anxiously awaited his vacation schedule, as they knew to plan their getaways after, and only after, he had planned his. For it was well known that “The curse of Oscar’s vacation” would prevail again this year. Even strangers knew to never schedule a vacation the same week as Oscar.

Farmer Abner Crockett who knew a friend of a friend of a cousin of a friend of Oscar always planned around Oscar’s schedule. Oxen were stowed , sandbags were packed.

“Let the skies open!” yelled Farmer Abner to the world. He knew Oscar had begun his annual trek to the Jersey Shore.

Upon arriving in Belmar, Oscar changed into his favorite combo of a bold Hawaiian shirt, shorts passed his knees and black socks pulled up high. He looked out across the street toward the ocean and declared, “I think there used to be a beach here!”

The angry Atlantic waves smashing against the breakwall and had eroded the coastline, as if to welcome him to his upcoming seven day ordeal.

Day 2

On Oscar’s first full day of vacation he sat on the beach sipping his tasty fruit smoothie and enjoying the sunshine. He was particularly delighted because his smoothie had an umbrella in it that matched the sea green umbrella shading him. He grinned at everyone and no one in particular.

Suddenly, he heard shouts from the people in the water. Just as he looked up, a wall of water towered before him.

“Figures,” he said as he took another sip of his frozen treat.

Day 3

Oscar awoke in a make-shift morgue down an alley off the boardwalk. Upon suddenly sitting upwards, the white sheet fell off.  Slappy Morgenstern, the morgue attendant, looked over and seeing Oscar seeming to awake from the dead, fainted.

Oscar sigh, then searched around for smelling salts. Not finding any, he uncorked a bottle of formaldahide and held it under Slappy’s nose.

Slappy slowly came to and said, “Gee mister, I am sorry I ‘toe-tagged’ ya, but judging from the look on your face, I thought you were already dead.”

Oscar sighed, looked around for his clothes, then finding them all cut up on the floor, picked up some pants lying next to a body and slipped them on. “I guess these are as good as any.” He waved goodbye to Slappy and headed back out into the sunshine to take a nap on the beach.

Day 4

Oscar saw a shanty-turned-restaurant on one of the piers and decided to give it a try for dinner.

“Botulism Bay. What a clever name. I wonder when they opened this place. ‘Botulism’ is such a unique word. I wonder what it means.” An oddly bitter smell wafted across his face as he opened the door.

He found a small table in the corner that had a window facing the crashing waves. Despite the windows, it was very dark in the restaurant. “This is such a clever covering on the windows,” he thought as he tried to look through the grease and dirt covered glass. “Hmmmm…. what’s that?” In the corner of his window was scribbled what appeared to be, ‘HELP M” with a long smudge trailing off the M. “I wonder who M is and why he or she needs help.” He thought he felt something run across his foot, but decided it may have been the wind coming in from the open patio door.

Perusing the sticky menu he felt his taste buds perk as he read the appetizers – specifically the “grilled shrimp with a sun-dried tomato mayonnaise.” He decided to order a margarita this time to accompany the shrimp, deeming the smoothy of two days prior “unlucky”.

Awaiting his appetizer, Oscar finalized the last of his dinner order, selecting a swordfish steak with side orders of coleslaw and potato salad.

As the waiter arrived to serve Oscar his grilled shrimp, Oscar couldn’t help but notice the unkempt appearance of the waiter’s uniform. He had to admit to himself that the stains appearing on the man’s sleeves looked a little too much like blood stains to be anything but that. Shaking off the sense of foreboding, he dove in to savor the unique taste of the shrimp.

Finishing the shrimp quickly and feeling satisfied as one does after enjoying a new dish. Oscar leaned back on his chair, rubbed his belly, stretched his hands up high, then reached down, took the umbrella out of his drink and emptied the remaining margarita into his gullet.

Seeing the waiter across the room, Oscar waved him over discreetly.

“Waiter, that was a very unique dish. Being a lover of fine cuisine, can you please tell me a little more about the preparation?” As he finished his sentence, he felt a threatening gas bubble begin its way through his abdomen.

“The tomatoes are picked at the peak of ripeness, laid out on the dock outside. Any tomatoes not picked up by the seagulls within three days are then blended with the chef’s own recipe of week old eggs, vinegar and some other proprietary ingredients.”

“So, you have a special drying area out on the dock?” inquired a perplexed Oscar feeling the gas bubble working its way around.

“No, just wherever the fishermen have not placed their lines and equipment, we lay out the tomatoes. Your dinner will be out in a few minutes.” The waiter walked away to greet the guests who just sat down at the next table.

Knowing he should get up and leave the restaurant immediately and not subject his body to any more questionable sustenance, Oscar was, unfortunately, paralyzed by his insatiable curiosity. “What could they possibly do to a swordfish steak?” he asked himself, not truly wanting to know the answer.

The steam from the dish set before him wafted upwards, like a prisoner climbing a penitentiary wall.

“Ah, swordfish, my favorite!” Oscar squealed with the excitement of a 2-year old given a lollipop.

Suddenly, a foul odor traversed his nostrils. “Maybe it is coming from someone else’s dish,” he thought. Oscar attacked that swordfish steak like a Newarker attacking a car thief.

With his empty plate before him, he folded his napkin and leaned back in his chair with a feeling of complete satisfaction.

“Best part of my vacation,” he thought, ignoring the bubbles filling his abdomen.

As the giddy thoughts of dessert possibilities danced in his head, his stomach growled fiercely. This was no ordinary growl, mind you, but the growl of a wolverine whose meal was just stolen by a vulture.  Oscar’s stomach began twitching which quickly turned into convulsing.

“Must be the jalapeno relish,” he thought. “Maybe a nice dessert will settle it.”

Summoning the waiter Oscar proceeded to order his dessert course. “I’d like to try the pistachio encrusted yogurt parfait,” he announced with enthusiasm.

“Excellent choice,” the waiter replied, “The yogurt is at it’s peek of curdling. I’ll retrieve your selection from our world class dessert tray. It’s currently parked out in the back alley.”

Oscar leaned back to make more room for the parfait and rubbed his belly not unlike an expectant mother. As he did, he felt his innards begin to talk to each other. He shifted his lower half to relieve some of the discomfort.

“Maybe if I drink a bit of water, it will settle my stomach.” As he lifted the glass to his mouth he noticed a strong odor of rotten fish. Not to be deterred he gulped the entire glass of water, but was left with the distinct aftertaste of seaweed and salt. “Hmmmm. Maybe I’m sitting too close to the window. This sea air is starting to taint even my tastebuds.” His innards let out a loud growl of protest as soon as the water reached his stomach. “All this unique cuisine is really doing a number on my body. I’ll bet the yogurt will sooth me.”

As if on cue, the waiter brought over the pecan crusted yogurt parfait.

“Monseur, you weell no-tees ze unique texture of zee chef’s special yogurt parfait. It is a result of zee combination of zee high temperatures at which zee chef keeps zee milk before creating zee yogurt, zee length of time before zee milk is cultured, as well as zee questionable utensils which he uses. Bon Appetit!”

“Hmmmmm. Where did that French accent come from?” thought Oscar as he dug his dessert spoon into the mixture which was more the texture of homemade lumpy mashed potatoes than Yoplait. As his stomach groaned in foreboding protest, he lifted his first overflowing spoonful of yogurt parfait to his mouth. “Wow, I’m used to yogurt smelling sweet. This has much of the same fishy and sour odor as my water. Must be my proximity to the windows. I’ll have to sit somewhere else next time. Ya know, this yogurt is pretty lumpy. Must be a French style. And I’ve never seen pecans so dark and shriveled before. I LOVE this high end cuisine!!!” he mumbled to himself.

The waiter came back to check on Russell, “And how are you enjoying your parfait, Monseur?”

“I’ve never had yogurt so chewy before. It’s quite a culinary experience.”

“Will you be having anything else tonight?”

“Actually, I’d love to have a hot cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream. Do you make your own whipped cream?”

“But, of course, Monseur. In much the same manner as the yogurt.”

“De-lightful,” Oscar purred. “Please bring my check along with the hot cocoa.”

Oscar felt his tastebuds begin to go numb. “Must be a result of this AMAZING cuisine. I wonder if Mama would like this as much as I do?”

By the time the waiter retuned, the  numbness had spread to Oscar’s lower extremities. He was no longer able to squelch the sounds rumbling from his mid-section. “Sir, feel free to take the money out of my wallet. I am unable to move my left arm to assist. And there’s an extra $0.50 in there for you if you can call 911 for me right now. I’m feeling a little faint.” Then Oscar landed face first in his parfait.

The waiter made sure he was breathing, reached down and heisted Oscar’s wallet taking two $20s for the $15 bill, placed the wallet back and yelled into the kitchen. “Yo, Vinnie, we got another one. Better call the ambulance!  Any chance you have any more of those parfaits? I think I could use a few days off myself.”
Day 5

When Oscar woke up in the local hospital, the doctors were pumping his stomach. As soon as the last of the curdled milk hit the bottom of the bucket, a woman entered his room. Without as much as a side-eyed glance at him, she intones, “We are sending you home. Wherever home is. Your insurance has been denied, so we aren’t going to keep you.” Turning on her heels and exiting the room, she pointed to the nearest nurse and said, “Check his wallet and take whatever cash he has as a down payment.”

Groaning much like Lurch from ‘The Adams Family,’ Oscar stumbled to his feet and holding onto the wall to felt his way out of the door.

“Excuse me, sir!”

Oscar turned, almost losing his balance and saw a nurse running after him.

Leaning against the wall as the hallway spun uncontrollably around him, he waited.

“Oh, I am so glad I caught you. We have your bill.” She handed him an envelope and walked quickly back down the hall.

Knowing that his day couldn’t get much worse, Oscar opened the envelope and almost lost the remaining water in his stomach. “NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS! I had no idea fine dining could cost that much.” Shrugging his shoulders, Oscar made his way slowly out of the hospital. As he passed the glass walls of the hotel lobby, he caught a reflection of himself in the hospital’s glass door. “Is that a tattoo on the top of my head?” Not having the strength to reach up to check his head, he gingerly shuffled the five blocks back to his hotel. With each movement, Oscar felt not only the achiness in his abdomen from the stomach pumping, but a soreness on his head that increased with every heartbeat.

With the last bit of energy, he put the key into the lock and pushed open the door. Falling face first onto the mildewed, brownish shag carpet, he unintentionally inhaled deeply. His nose filled with the stench of cigarettes and skunked beer from too many keg parties in the years gone by. With no regard to the cockroaches scurrying out of his way, he dragged himself over to the bed and pulled himself up, collapsing quickly onto the crusty bedspread.

It was all he could do to roll over onto his back. Feeling too much pain to fall asleep, he reached for the remote and tuned the TV onto old reruns of ‘Green Acres.’ “Those Gabor sisters really had it goin’ on!” he mumbled to himself before falling into a deep dream-filled sleep while the ‘Green Acres’ theme ran through his head.

His peaceful dreams of living on a farm soon turned macabre with the farm’s animals turning into the morgue attendant, the waiter from Botulism Bay and what appeared to be a 40-year old tattoo-covered hospital candy striper named Bruno who looked incredibly familiar. In his restless sleep, Oscar smiled and nodded his head as he mumbled “Greeeen Acres is the place to beeeeee.”

Day 5-1/2

Several hours later Oscar awoke to the sound of the Partridge Family singing ‘C’mon get happy.’ He couldn’t help but sing along in his quasi-alert state. “A whole lot of lovin’ is what we’ll be bringin’ to make you happyyyyyy.” He reached up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes, stretched, then felt the now-familiar throb on the top of his noggin. “What the…. What happened to my head? I bet it has to do with that candy striper.” He slowly rolled off the bed into a standing position and walked into the small bathroom. As he looked into the mirror, he couldn’t help but notice the artwork on his head.

“Oh My GOD!!!” He vaguely heard the glass on the TV set break with the high pitched screech he let loose. “Mama is going to kill me!!!!” He moved his head to get a better view of the new tattoo from all angles. “So, I wasn’t just dreaming it! Bruno really does exist! He sure didn’t look good in that white and red jumper. How did he pass himself off as a candy striper anyway?”

Oscar reached up and gingerly outlined the bare foot now permanently etched on his head. “Unless I dreamt it, Bruno said he had a thing for feet.” Leaning against the wall as the room began to spin around him, he knew he needed to get outside. “My stomach is killing me. Maybe I should just take a slow walk on the boardwalk. I’ve already had issues on the beach, in a restaurant and in the hospital. How much harm could a short jaunt on the Boardwalk do? I’m sure the sea air will make me feel much better.”

Oscar scrubbed his face, brushed his teeth, rinsed with mouthwash twice and headed out the door. “I guess I better wear my hat. I can’t imagine the hot sun will be good for this open wound on my head!”

The sun shone brightly. Not a cloud in the sky. A perfect 85 degrees with a strong, but warm wind coming in off the ocean. He headed as quickly as one can after having their stomach pumped, to the Boardwalk and immediately felt better when his feet touched the wooden walkway. “I may actually be able to salvage the rest of my vacation! Only 1-1/2 days left. What could possibly happen to me now? It’s already been so memorable!”

If it weren’t for the soreness in his abdomen and on his head, Russell would have skipped down the boardwalk, he felt so refreshed.

“I’m feeling a bit parched. I wonder where I can find some tasty Italian ice. I think my stomach could handle that.” He watched longingly as a herd of preteens walked by eating their ice cream. “Oh, how I love ice cream, but I think I’m better off with Italian ice. I AM half Italian. Mama would be proud of my choice of treat.”

As he saw the blinking lights surrounding the Italian ice cart, Oscar’s eyes grew as wide as, well, as wide as a huge container of Italian ice. He sauntered over and ordered a heaping paper cone full of rainbow ice, paid the $6.50 and walked away happier than he had felt all week. He looked around gleefully as he ate his ice, not really paying attention to anything in particular. A seagull caught his eye as it walked in front of him on the boardwalk, Oscar thought, “I’ve never noticed those lines on the wood before. They seem to go all the way down to the end. Right down the middle of the walkway.”

He didn’t pay attention to the horn or the people screaming behind him. As he took another spoonful of ice, he heard a loud “THUMP” as he felt himself lifted high into the air. Not feeling the pain until he landed on the boardwalk train’s roof, slowly rolled off the edge and ended back onto the wood planks.

“Damn, and I lost my ice, too,” were the words by-standers reportedly heard as he lost consciousness.

Quietly a little boy said to his father, “Dad, it looks like someone kicked him in the head, too. See the footprint?”

Day 6

Unfortunately, this time, Oscar wasn’t allowed into the hospital. Recalling the insurance issues from his prior visit, the ER doctors ordered him put into a cab and driven back from where he came.

Oscar awoke lying face first in the sand off the edge of the boardwalk. As if he’d been intentionally rolled right off. He rolled over and lay still, looking up at the clear star-filled sky. “Ya know, it really is beautiful out here at night. This sand is still warm from the day… The day? It’s night? What time is it anyway?” He lifted his forearm to glance at his watch. “1:00am? No wonder it’s so quiet out here!”

He lifted himself to a sitting position and heard the rustle of a piece of paper. Looking down at his shirt he saw a piece of paper stapled to his collar. “What’s this? A bill from a cab company? Where did I go? Last thing I remember was eating Italian ice. And, boy was it tasty!”

Raising himself effortlessly to a standing position, he put his hands on his hips and stretched his back in every direction. “I’m not sure what happened, but my back hasn’t felt this good in years!” Brushing the sand off of his clothes, Oscar looked around to make sure he left nothing behind and headed down to the surf. When he reached the moist sand, he removed his loafers and held them as he waded into the surf.

“Wow! What a gorgeous night. I feel so lucky to be here. This is a great way to end my vacation! I should do all over again before I leave tomorrow! I’ll just walk for a few more minutes, then head back to my hotel room and get a few hours of sleep before the sun rises.”

The sound of a beautiful voice singing from somewhere on the beach reached his ears. He didn’t know the exact direction, so he looked all around him in the moonlight as he walked, trying to follow the angelic voice.

The singing was getting louder and, finally, as he approached a lifeguard chair, he looked up and saw a beautiful woman sitting in the chair with her eyes raised to the stars, singing confidently, but in a slow, almost lounge-singer type voice, “Searching for myyyyyyy lost shaker of salt… Some people claim that there’s a maaaan to blaaaaaaaaame. But, I know… It’s my own damn fault.”

“A woman after my own heart. She loves salty food, too!” thought Oscar as he slowly approached.

Suddenly the woman stopped singing and looked down at him. “Hi. Sorry for the singing. I just enjoy the acoustics out here.”

“Please excuse me. You don’t have to stop on my account. I was simply enjoying your lovely voice. Well, enjoy your evening.” he began to turn away.

“Wait! Oscar? Oscar Numbkevitz? Is that you?”

“Uh, yes, I AM Oscar Numbkevitz. I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize you from down here.”

“Wait a minute. I’m coming down.” She quickly stood, smoothed her sundress down and leapt gracefully from the lifeguard chair.

“Wow. Athletic. I like that in a woman. She looks beautiful in that dress, too. But who is she?” he thought.

“Hi Oscar. I hope you remember me. I remember you… I’m Antonia Butisky. I worked with you back at the insurance agency way back when! Back in Bridgewater. I was only there a few weeks, but I remember the picture of your nephew and the plants you always kept on your desk.”

‘Antonia… Antonia…’ Oscar wracked his brain trying to remember her. Not wanting to sound rude, he replied, “Yes, hi, Antonia. How are you?”

“Much better ever since I left the insurance industry! Sales was brutal! But you always brought a smile to my face! It’s so good to see you, Oscar! What are you doing now?”

It was all coming back. Antonia was truly one of the nicest people he had ever worked with. He had been so sad when she hadn’t stayed. He had felt an emptiness every time he walked past her desk.

“Well, I’m still at the agency. Same stuff really. But the people I work with are really great! What have you been up to all these years?”

“I worked for a mail house for a while, then decided to follow my dream and go to cooking school. I now own a small Italian restaurant back in Orange. You may have heard of it – it’s called ‘Antonia’s’.”

“You know, my brother brought some leftovers home from there a few weeks ago. He said the food was fantastic!” Oscar was overwhelmed. ‘She’s beautiful, Italian, a great cook, lives nearby, is a really sweet person and sings beautifully! This can’t possibly be happening to me!’ he thought to himself.

“Oscar, how long are you going to be here? It’s really late now, but I’d love to have lunch with you tomorrow. That is – if you’re available.”

“I would really LOVE to. It just so happens that tomorrow is my last day here. I can’t think of a better way to spend my last day.”

They walked back to the boardwalk together making small talk. They decided on an 11:30 meeting near the Italian ice vendor and headed back to their respective hotels.

Oscar and Antonia slept deep, contented sleeps that night. Eagerly anticipating the next day’s lunch.
Day 7 – The Last Day

Oscar awoke more refreshed and thrilled to be alive than he had felt in recent memory. Dressing quickly and in his boardwalk best Hawaiian shirt, he headed out to arrive at the Italian Ice vendor early. He feared that if he was not there early, his enthusiastic nervousness could ruin his luncheon with Antonia.

Antonia arrived promptly at 11:30 dressed in a flowing blue floral sundress and closed toe sandals. “Could she be any more perfect?” thought Oscar as he watched her approach.

They walked slowly toward a favorite restaurant of Antonia’s and found the conversation never lacking, nor anything less than captivating. Enjoying their luncheon of fresh-made pasta, fantastic salads, tiramisu and delicate wine, it seemed a day nothing short of a dream.

After lunch they continued their leisurely walk along the boardwalk, enjoyed a delightful game of mini-golf, played a few rounds of skeeball and enjoyed more Italian Ice. The day went by quickly and they enjoyed a casual dinner and an evening of talk and romance on the beach after sunset.

“This has been the best day of my life.” Oscar told Antonia as they walked hand in hand along the beach.

“Oscar, I have to say that this must be destiny. How could we have possibly found each other like this? But…” Oscar felt his heart drop into his loafers as she paused. “I don’t know how to ask you this, but why do you have a foot tattooed on your head?”

The asking of such a simple, yet complicated question, flooded him with relief. “Let me suffice to say that it was not something I chose. It has been a long week. Would you mind terribly if we table that discussion until another time? I don’t want to end the evening on that note.”

“Of course, I don’t mind, Oscar. I have enjoyed today more than I can tell you. I feel like we have connected more closely than I can even begin to describe.”

“I feel the same way, Antonia. Thank you for today.”

They fell into a comfortable silence, and settled into the sand to listen to the surf and just enjoy each other’s company.

After what seemed like minutes, but was actually hours, they noticed the boardwalk light begin to dim and realized they should head back to their hotels for the night.

“I don’t want to say, ‘Goodnight’, Oscar, but it’s really late.”

“I feel the same. May I join you for breakfast tomorrow before I leave to head back home?”

“Of course. I would be delighted.”

They walked silently, hand-in-hand back to the boardwalk, then parted ways with a brief embrace, promising to meet the next morning at 7:00am for breakfast.

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In Oscar’s subconscious he felt something nudging him and an odd gravely sound. The touch and noise seemed so contrary to the deep, contented sleep he had enjoyed and even more in contrast to the memory of his evening with Antonia. Trying to get a few extra minutes of sleep, he attempted to shake off the odd nudge and the even more disturbing sound.

“Oscar. Wake up, Oscar.”

The voice was becoming more clear and Oscar realized that he was slumped over in a chair with his forehead resting on a hard surface.

The nudging began again. It felt as if a great paw was pushing him directly above his left shoulder blade.

“Oscar. Oscar! You need to wake up. You slept through the meeting again and we’re going to be late for our lunch reservations.” Oscar lifted his head and looked around to see a conference room empty except for the person with the gravely voice behind him. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and mumbled, “But, my vacation at BelMar… Antonia… What meeting? I don’t understand…”

The gravely voice answered from behind him. “What vacation, Oscar? It’s February. The beach is freezing. You’ve been here on a conference call with our vice president, but slept through most of it. And…” Oscar felt the giant paw grasp his shoulder and spin him in his chair to face the currently unfamiliar speaker. “Who is Antonia? I’m Toni. Your boss and secret girlfriend. You still owe me a foot massage and we have lunch plans today. You must have had one intense dream.”

Oscar’s guttural cry was said to have been heard as far away as Staten Island.

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Legend has it that that scream was the last sound Oscar made before he lapsed into a catatonic state and was taken away by the men in white lab coats. They say that if you listen closely on February evenings, you can still hear the echo of the scream throughout Central New Jersey.