A Second Chance

A SECOND CHANCE

Marshall had been a daydreamer all his life. For as long as he could remember, he would fantasize just about anything. Certainly for personal pleasures, yet also for why not? Why can’t I live this dream? He had an extremely vivid imagination; so much so that if he read a good book, or had a strong fantasy going, he would be totally engrossed, and would forget about his immediate surroundings.

Marshall also had an anger management/bullying problem that would usually manifest itself when he was around younger children.

His mom was also an avid reader, and occasionally, Marshall would sneak one of her books and read it. Mom sometimes had some steamy books.

Marshall always had a thing for the ladies. Even in K, he had a couple of favorite girls. He didn’t know what to do except to maybe hold their hand at recess, or put his arm around her during lecture (lecture? you did say Kindergarten?).

First grade was an eye-opening experience. He liked a girl, and even invited her over to swing one afternoon. You know… the kind on a swing set.

Dad always called it a porch swing, but it was really too small for he and his brother, and girlfriend too, for that matter, to swing comfortably. Yet, he and his little lady seemed to enjoy each others company that afternoon.

Since Marshall’s mom was a teacher, there wasn’t much that he did that didn’t get back to her eventually.

He didn’t remember when the cockiness started; maybe that was part of the cowardice. He didn’t know and really wasn’t going to go to therapy to search for that particular answer.

In first grade, a guest music teacher was coming for a lesson. It was just before Christmas. The gentleman walked in, and Marshall figured the teacher was blind so as not to see the man walk into the classroom, and he kept speaking to her loudly “here he is! Here he is!” Yep, got in trouble for that.

He does remember at a neighbor’s pool, when he was five, that he shoved a younger child into the pool. It was a wading pool, but Marshall pushed him in just the same. It made no difference to him that the child was also wearing a sling.

Did he get whipped for that? No recollection of that, and is probably not important.

During the same period, the next door neighbors’ dog had some pups. When the puppies got a little older, Marshall squished one between the doghouse and the house. He ran away, but was accosted by the owner later, and he denied it.

When he and his brother were tots, somehow, and the stories vary slightly from brother to brother, younger brother ended up getting a huge cut on his forehead, causing a life-long scar. Marshall was responsible, but doesn’t remember exactly what happened. It had to do with a little bottle he found; like a vanilla extract bottle. He had been making noise with it by tapping it on the side of a ceramic coated steel wash basin, and (this is where the story changes) he then faked throwing the bottle at the side of the house; only, part of the bottle came off and hit little brother. Little brother claims that Marshall threw the bottle at him.

If little brother’s version is true, then we see a very early tendency for violence in Marshall towards a younger, a smaller person.

Marshall remembers during that time that he and his brother were playing with the mixer. The cord ended up getting pulled out. Mom sent he and his brother to bed for their nap. The next thing he remembered was getting knocked up side of the head, only to look into his marine dad’s steel-blue eyes. He dared not cry, even though the thumpin’ really hurt. 20 minutes later, marine dad fixed the mixer. Marshall’s head was still numb.

He had two younger brothers; one 13 months younger, the second was nine years younger. Marshall had no idea what a big brother was. He only knew that he had two little brothers, and sometimes, they were a pain in the ass.

Sometimes he was asked to do something like wear the same shirt as his brother, so they would look alike. His response was something to the effect of WTF? Yep, he got into his share of trouble and spankings in the sixties were plentiful; especially since Dad was an ex-marine.

Marshall didn’t know any different. You got what you got and ya gotta run with it. Ya deal the hand you’re dealt. He had no idea what that meant, but that was pretty much what he did.

Second grade, more girls, more troubles.

Marshall’s idea of liking girls was chasing them at recess. Unfortunately, Marshall was not very athletically inclined. Still, the fun was in the hunt and chase. If he really liked a girl, he would pull out his Big Chief tablet, and draw and huge heart with and arrow through it from top right to bottom left and write “I love you (girl’s name).” Sometimes he would sign it, sometimes not.

Third grade…gold mine. Marshall had more girlfriends than he knew what to do with.

Fourth grade. Girlfriends…not with that teacher.

He wasn’t sure, but he thought that was the year the neighbors moved in. They had two boys; one tyke around two…no more than that, and an older boy perhaps first or second grade.

When the neighbor kids parents would arrive home in the evenings, Marshall would drop what he was doing, and run over to play with the little one. Usually, Marshall would end up abusing the boy to the point of crying. Slapping pushing him down were common practices. The more he got away with it, the  more severe the abuse became. At times, when Marshall returned the youngster, he would be bleeding from his mouth. Marshall was quick with excuses and lies to cover his bizarre behavior.

One evening Marshall ran over to play with the boy, and the boy’s mom nixed the idea. No more.

On the other side of Marshall’s home were two more kids; again one a little tyke that was too young to speak. The abuse wasn’t as fun with that boy because he wasn’t as cute.

That year, Marshall was given a little brother. He would walk be the bassinet while baby slept, and flick the baby’s cheek.

Being color blind, Marshall could not tell that there was a huge red welt on baby’s face. Mom saw it, and questioned Marshall and his brother, but Marshall played innocent, and got away with it.

Marshall and his brother used to bathe together when they were young. During one session, his brother was washing his hair. Marshall took the shampoo bottle, shook it, and watched carefully while his brother rinsed his hair. When his brother took a breath, Marshall squirted the soapy suds from the bottle into his brother’s nose and mouth.

His brother immediately began coughing and choking and crying. He got out of the tub and vomited on the floor. He began pounding on the bathroom door for help. Marshall did nothing. Mom came in and took care of younger brother.

Marshall and his next younger brother fought with regularity. No particular reason, just seemed that they were very frequently at odds. Marshall was a poor excuse for a big brother. He never, ever even considered how his actions affected his younger brothers until many, many years later.

The mean fourth grade teacher, had a wealth of book collections. Biographies of colonial heroes; Bedford Forest, Ulysses Grant, Washington, Lewis and Clark and many others. He loved to read, and would get totally wrapped up in fantasy, leaving his present location. At times, he would have to be spoken sharply to, as to get back to reality. He read most of those books twice, and got in trouble for reading in class on numerous occasions. Fourth grade was also the year he found out there was no Santa Claus. This new knowledge tore a huge hole in his fantasy world.

This was where he also learned public humiliation for reading in class. He would have to write “I will not read in class while the teacher is speaking” 100 times on the black board, then erase it, then clean the erasers.

In fifth grade, or the summer between fifth and sixth, Marshall got a paper route. A chance to earn real  money. Too bad the leader of the paper boys in that part of town cheated them out of their money.

Marshall loved it. While delivering papers on his route, he would fantasize. He told his stories out loud. He made up whatever he wanted. The only story he recalls is about these rocket tubes he had that he could fly with…and rescue pretty girls and they would all love him. (Fifth grade in the sixties meant naivety in a major way) Marshall’s idea of a big romance was holding a girl’s hand. He had a few in fifth grade, and he got the shit kicked out of him by one who he chased and caught. That scar is still on his shin.

He pissed away all his money on candy and toys. He got so used to having money, that when Marine dad got transferred, Marshall no longer had a job, and had to steal money from his parents. They were far too trusting, leaving their wallets about. He even resorted to shoplifting. He never got caught. He came close, but never had problems with the police.

The move took place while Marshall was in eighth grade, where he met a girl that he really liked. The move shut something off inside him and he no longer chased girls. He could hardly talk to them without freezing up. The girl he liked, had the cutest dimples he had ever seen, and she giggled a lot.

He fell for a girl at church…badly. When she dumped him for his younger brother, he had a little knife that he stabbed through her name on his bulletin board above his bed. He felt humiliated.

When the motorcycle arrived, he was able to go visit dimples whenever he wanted. She seems to like  him ok. When his parents dragged him off to North Dakota every summer, he would write her, and she would write back. He really liked her, and found out that she was transferring to a different school. He would still go see her from time to time, as she still lived in the same place, for whatever reason, she wanted to go to school where her father was teaching. So he pretty much did without her for his sophmore and junior years.

His younger brother and he fought tooth and nail frequently. Someone would always get a whippin’ when they fought. When his brother would get spanked, Marshall would laugh to himself.

Marshall got a job, and he was home free. He had money, a motorcycle which he had to share until his brother got a reckless driving ticket and was no longer allowed to drive the bike until he had his license. A year later, Marshall turned sixteen, and Marine dad let him drive the old Studebaker. So what? Now he could cruise around in the rain. That’s when he started smoking pot. Marshall loved it.

He was able to maybe work after school for an hour a day, and Saturday he worked all day. His part-time checks were about twelve or thirteen dollars. In those days, with that he could put gas in his car, buy some dope, smokes and munchies. Life was really good.

His folks no longer bothered him, as he had a job. No more hauling out the trash, no more trimming the hedge, no more mowing the yard, no more cleaning out under the fruit trees, no more picking up dog shit, no more baby sitting little brother.

Saturday night was his night. He cashed his check at the convenience store, put gas in, and got smokes. He went home and showered, and ate. Then he left for the evening. Usually he was gone until after midnight. Sometimes Marine dad was up; sometimes not. They always left the outside light on, and a lamp on inside the house. As long as he wasn’t too wasted, things were cool.

He loved to drink beer and liquor when he could, but was not old enough. In 1974, the drinking age in Texas dropped to 18.

In the summer of 1973, he was in between his junior and senior year. He was six feet two inches tall, weighed 140 lbs, and had long flowing blond hair.

He still had the same job, and in the summer, he was allowed to work full time. His paychecks were $48.59 for a 40-hour week. That was big money in those days. A couple of his pals were old enough to buy beer, so he never went thirsty for lack of opportunity. Dope was plentiful at ten dollars an ounce, and sometimes he would get some really good stuff. He always shared.

One of the places he always hung out was a good friend named Jacob. They had met in school, and became friends easily. Jacob was a doper too, as were several of their  mutual friends; some of which were in the band like Marshall.

On Saturday nights, Marshall would head over to Jacob’s to set the evening. Next door to Jacob on one side was Dimples, as her family had moved there a year or so earlier. On the other side of Jacob were the Martin brothers.

Marshall still liked Dimples, but felt since he had gone astray, he would never be able to really get involved with her. She was still friendly enough, but he didn’t stop and talk much to her as her family was pretty straight-laced.

A typical Saturday night usually consisted of hanging out in front of Jacob’s house. Then the Martin brothers would  join them and they would all take off in someone’s car and get high. The Martin brothers rarely furnished pot, but were always willing to smoke someone else’s. Frequently, they would go to the snow cone shop and satisfy their munchies.

One of the Martin brothers had a girlfriend named Tessa. She was cute enough; a sophomore the upcoming September. She too, would go with them and get high. She was actually quite fun. She broke up with Martin, and became a free spirit. Marshall chased her, but could not get her to commit to any long term relationship. they went out a few times, nothing special.

In those days, Marshall was introduced to The Trailer. A cousin of one of his band friends lived there, and it was a great hangout instead of driving around smoking, they could sit, smoke dope, listen to music, and watch tv..even got to put beer in the fridge!

Marshall took her there a couple times, and she was good with people.

The owner of the trailer actually asked her out in that time frame…she turned him down.

It didn’t take long before Tessa’s older sister, Terri, started sniffing around Marshall, wanting some of the action.

Terri was actually ‘promised’ to another guy, Robert, who had gotten busted a year or two earlier for pot, and was on probation. He was a year younger than Terri.  Terri was ‘helping him stay straight’. He had a cool portable building for a bedroom behind his folks house, which wasn’t really conducive for him “getting straight”.

Tessa decided she didn’t want to get tied down, so Marshall and she parted peacefully. That was a first for him, as (remember the girl from church?) He had not had good luck with peaceful break-ups.

One night, Jacob and Marshall returned back to Jacob’s house. They had been in Jacob’s car, and Marshall had left  his parked in front of his house. His dad’s huge LTD was in the driveway.

When they arrived, his dad’s car had been turned; meaning the front wheels were still facing forward, but the rear end of the car had been pushed half off the driveway. In addition, Marshall’s Camaro had a bashed in passenger-side front fender. There was a police officer there as well getting info.

As it turned out, a fellow classmate of theirs, a well-known druggie, had veered off the street, crashed into Jacob’s dad’s car, then crashed into Marshall’s in her deVille. The cop took some info, and up pulled Terri. She hung out for the duration; even after the cop left she was still there. Marshall hesitated to drive his car because of the dent, not knowing if it would drag the fender over the tire or not. Jacob went in, and Terri offered Marshall a ride home.

The next day, she showed up at Marshall’s door after church and offered to drive him back. He scrambled to get some tools in case he would have to work on the fender.

Terri was cute, for sure. Petite, but a little stocky. Beautiful hair and smile, and she had a shake that would leave the bear cubs homeless…and she was throwing herself at him.

What else could he do?

Marshall was a senior then and in his last class of the day, who sat in front of him but his long lost love Dimples. They hashed over old times, and enjoyed each others company. The second semester in 1974, she disappeared…again.

Terri was trying to break up with Robert, but he decided to be a baby about it. She had promised him that she would go to the prom, and so she did. She dropped out of high school after that. Technically, she was a junior.

By then, Tessa had started her slow decline into drugs.

After the prom and Marshall’s graduation, he turned eighteen and off to the liquor store he went. He also started going to Mexico that summer every Saturday night with Terri. He decided not to go to college. He had enough school and being told what to do, so he stayed at the grease monkey job. It would go nowhere, but he liked the steady pay, and had gotten used to having money.

He would drive by the old gang and once he saw Dimples, and she waved. Terri called her a whore.

Marshall pretty much abandoned his old pals in favor of her. His folks didn’t like her much, and he was staying out until three in the morning with her making out, smoking dope and drinking. Jacob and his band friends had gone to college by the end of the summer.

One night, they had ended up parking on a remote dirt road, and he went after the pussy. Much to his surprise and embarrassment, he was unable to get it up. “This never happened before” he said to her. Yeah right, it was his first time.

It took several attempts over the course of perhaps a couple of months before he could actually get hard enough to get inside her. Man, it was indescribable. He banged on her every night after that.

She wanted to get married really bad. She even told Marshall that her dad was beating her when she got home. Marshall told her that if they could save up a thousand dollars, he would then marry her. That would be difficult, given that A. she didn’t work, and B. Marshall spent all his money entertaining her.

One day, Terry came up and announced that she was pregnant after their first successful intercourse. For the next few days, she was going out and buying maternity clothes, or at least that’s what she called them.

Marshall had never felt so trapped in his life. A friend of his had offered to get him a job on an oil rig, but he had to quit the grease monkey job first. So he turned in his notice, much to the boss’s surprise…after all, he was their star employee.

(A few years later, the boss’s wife and daughter committed suicide with the boss’s .45. First the wife, then a couple years later, the daughter with the same gun.)

His friend was unable to get him on for the drilling company.

Marshall felt the only thing he could do was to marry her. He had not thought past that. He figured that if something happened to him, at least the baby would have a name…old school for sure.

So that’s what they did…they eloped. He closed out his bank account, all of like maybe $300, they got blood tests, and went to the courthouse and a judge married them. Then he went to his house, and she went to hers.

A couple of days later, Marshall was at her parent’s house. Terri came out of the bathroom, and claimed she had had a miscarriage. “I don’t know” she said “something came out and went kerplunk.”

She wouldn’t have lied to him to get him to marry her, would she? She loved him, didn’t she? Marshall went with the latter.

The paper published the marriage licenses, and Marshall’s mom found out. It did take a month, but he moved out with Terri to an efficiency apartment. Used to making love in the car, the bed was next to heaven.

Mom had some connections and Marshall got a job working as a technician in a town 30 miles away. He commuted daily with another guy that worked there, who drove a company truck.

No matter what he did, Terri was never happy. Marshall made two twenty-five an hour. He brought home maybe seventy two dollars a week.

Dad gave him a rent check for the second month. Marshall soon realized that moving out was a huge undertaking; especially since Terri didn’t work…didn’t want to work. Once in a while, she would go down to her parent’s office and clean it; usually to make up for money they had already given her. She dragged Marshall along too. Such fun on a Sunday afternoon.

He turned over the entire check and she pretty much had it spent. She didn’t get that they had to save up to pay the rent.

She drove around during the day wasting gas in his Camaro. The V-8 was not exactly economical. She even would hang out with her old boyfriend from time to time.

One morning, she wrecked his car. It wasn’t her fault, but then, she didn’t really need to driving around looking for something to do.

She ended up going to a chiropractor, and old geezer that called him up one night explaining her injury…a whiplash…a favorite word for chiropractors in those days. He said “it’s like a woman being raped” he said that phrase so many times, that Marshall almost hung up.

She wore one of those Velcro neck brace thingies when she felt like she needed some sympathy. He wasn’t sure, but perhaps this was when things really started getting bad.

He kept his job, and liked it. It turned out he had a knack for it, and the company started giving him quarterly bonuses. He had actually considered opening up an account in the town he worked, just to keep the money from her. He looked forward to going work…to get away from her.

One evening, he didn’t know what brought it up, but Terri admitted to him that she had gone to a party while in high school, took a bunch of downers, passed out, and a bunch of guys screwed her. She got pregnant and had to go to New York for an abortion.

Robert had told him of this, but Marshall thought he was being vindictive. Just the same, he asked her, while they were dating, if she had ever been to New York, and she denied it.

After her confession, she managed to turn it around to being Marshall’s fault.

Marshall began to hate her. He hated admitting defeat more by going back home, so he sucked it up.

Another day, she decided she wanted to move, so they did. It cost more, as it was a two bedroom, but it was much close to Marshall’s work buddy for easy car pooling.

That place didn’t last long as the walls were paper thin, and Tessa’s visits with her druggie friends, were too loud for Marshall’s sake.

They found yet another place, with the same landlord that owned the efficiency apartment. The rent was over two paychecks now. The landlord gave them a few bucks off rent to collect rent checks for him. That gave Terri something to do, as she still didn’t work.

Marshall didn’t remember when or why, but there was a period when Terri jumped his bones every night and screwed his brains out. He didn’t complain. There was a price to pay. This time, she really got pregnant.

Marshall’s folks weren’t really overjoyed about it.

Terri’s folks were borderline white trash, and they probably had a shotgun wedding themselves.

Marshall and Terri were back to a one bedroom, and the baby slept in his bassinet in their room. The playpen was in the living room.

Marshall’s job kept him away from home for over ten hours a day. When he returned home, Terri would thrust the baby in his face. “Your turn to take care of him” she would say, then take off to visit her sister or shop. That stopped when Marshall pulled the main distributor wire off his car one evening on his way in. He actually delighted in seeing her get so angry.

Marshall wasn’t sure when the beatings started. As in the past, just a little pinch here, a flick on the cheek there. Then he got bolder. He actually would hold the baby in his left hand, and punch him with his right. He would toss the baby onto the bed from across the room. He had put his finger down his throat so long that once he had to resuscitate him. That made the baby very sleepy. He got so bold that he would abuse him with friends in the next room. One day he grabbed the baby’s right upper leg, and squeezed it so hard that he heard it snap.

Marshall claimed he fell. Everybody bought it.

The baby had what was called a Spica cast put on, and had it for several weeks. Even then, Marshall would poke him with straight pins through the bottom of the cast into the baby’s foot.

Whenever Marshall finished an abusing session, he was physically drained. His hands shook. He felt remorse and regret for what he had done; yet he would do it again and again. He had thought about calling a local free counseling service, but didn’t want to risk being discovered, nor admitting he really had a problem.

The baby began to recognize Marshall as the abuser, and would cry whenever Marshall picked him up.

One Saturday morning, Terri got up and announced that she was going shopping with her sister. The baby was asleep in the playpen. He was right at three months old then.

Marshall cooked some breakfast, smoked a joint, watched Scooby-Doo and Valley of the Dinosaurs. He decided to lay down and take a nap. That’s what happened to him when he smoked pot first thing in the morning…it made him sleepy. Just as he was lying down, the baby awoke. Marshall saw him literally push himself up off his tummy. It didn’t matter. Marshall was angry that now he could not take a nap. Marshall then gave the baby the last beating he would ever receive.

Marshall, being color blind, could not tell that the baby had no color. That was the first thing that Terri noticed when she arrived.

They rushed to the hospital with a neighbor that happened to be outside. The emergency room doctor took the baby into an exam room, and came out in less than a minute. The next thing Marshall knew, the police were there. They wanted to go back to the apartment and look around.

When they arrived, Marshall called his younger brother and Marine dad and said that the baby was dead. They arrived before the police left.

The police interrogated Marshall for a long time, but he admitted to nothing…nothing. He explained that the mobile had fallen on the baby and had wrapped around his neck, suffocating him. Marshall attempted resuscitation to revive him, as per the bruises on the baby’s body.

He was not arrested, but there was still a funeral to plan. Terry and Marshall had no money, and the baby got a nice funeral by Marine dad and mom.

After the funeral, at Marine dad’s house, Marine dad asked Marshall to take a ride with him. Marshall and he went driving around the block, and Marine dad quizzed him “what really happened? I can’t help you if you aren’t honest with me.”

Marshall answered in a quaky voice, “I hit him Dad. I hit him a lot.”

Marine dad turned the car around, went back home, and called a friend to recommend an attorney.

Meanwhile, Terri insisted that they move again and they did to another apartment complex.

The attorney had Marshall tell him exactly what he did. Marshall told the story so many times that he grew emotionless about it. It didn’t seem real any more. The attorney suggested some psychotherapy to talk about it…for Terri too.

Marshall had to go to a mental hospital in Houston for two weeks to be evaluated by some psychiatrists and psychologists.

He continued to see the psychotherapist, and they got to be friends to a degree. Terri would go with him as the therapist saw it necessary.

It was really kind of sad for Terri’s sake, because she thought the attorney was just helping fend off the police; she did not know of Marshall’s guilt.

After turning himself in, posting bond, he went back to work as if nothing had happened.

He plead not guilty at the arraignment, and later changed his plea to guilty.

His mom had said once that this thing was like a dark cloud hanging over the family.

The trial was set for late April.

By now, in a defensive cagey strategy, the therapist told Terri about Marshall’s guilt. It had to be done this was as it was hearsay, and not admissible in court.

Since he had plead guilty, the defense had turned over the punishment phase of the trial to the jury. Picking the right jurors was instrumental.

Marshall’s defense attorneys had several attorneys who came and went as well as key witnesses that came and went during the course of the trial. The psychiatrist from the hospital Marshall attended was called to testify as well.

Marshall’s bosses, friends, mom and Marine dad, teachers, preachers testified on his behalf.

The trial lasted a week, and Marshall testified as well. The issue was why send him to prison for 20 years, when his mental condition would certainly worsen. The shrinks labeled his problem as a passive-aggressive personality disorder. The shrinks and mental health professionals all agreed and blamed at least part of Marshall’s anger on the fact that he had been ‘duped’ into the marriage by Terri lying about being pregnant to get him to marry her; a statement which she blurted out from the audience “bullshit!”

The prosecution paraded pictures of the dead child around in front of the jury, in hopes to win the case.

One of the jurors, Marshall found out later, and older woman stood in in the jury deliberations and made a speech about how they could not send this young man to prison. The damage had been done, the family was still dealing with that tragedy, and to cart him off to prison for 20 years, would not be justice.

Her speech worked as the jury gave Marshall 10 years of probation.

After wrapping up the trial, Marshall reported to the probation office, and returned to work at which time, he was fired. The boss offered no explanation, but gave Marshall two weeks severance pay. Marshall remembered thinking …so this is what happens when the wife runs the business…

Marshall called the attorney, and he said “well, now you have a golden opportunity to go back to school.”

So he did. He started summer school right away, and took 6  hours, which was considered full time. He also found a job at a lawn mower shop. He filled out the app, and a question was asked why he left former job he put ‘laid off’. The new boss asked him why, and Marshall asked to speak to him privately, and told him the story of what had happened. The new boss looked at Marshall right in the eye, and said “I’ll bet that was a hard thing to say to a perfect stranger. It took a lot of guts for you to come in here and admit that. You’re hired.”

His mom too had gotten an second job to help make ends meet. The trial had caused his parents to mortgage mom’s farm, and one of the cars. She liked her catalog job. Marine dad didn’t.

Marshall fixed lawn mowers for several months, then got moved to bicycle mechanic where he excelled.

He stayed away from his old pot-smoking friends for several months. He hung out with his brother and an old friend that was not a pot smoker.

He ran into Dimples at the mall one evening over Thanksgiving weekend. She looked great. He seriously considered asking her out, but didn’t. That was the last time he saw her for 27 years. He never forgot her, and frequently dreamed about her.

He got his younger brother to come in and talk to the new boss for an accounting position. He got the job as well. His brother got married during Marshall’s employment there.

Marshall was best man, and when him mom told him that the best man had to do a toast, Marshall shut down. No freaking way was he going to stand up in front of a whole giant crowd, and say something. He felt like he would be judged all over again. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t do it.

He saw in the paper that Dimples had gotten married.

He went to school and fixed bikes for around two years. Then, Marshall moved out with one of his band buddies who had graduated college into a nice 2 br apt.

He got really wasted at his roomie’s dad’s office 25 years celebration, and could not attend final exams the next day. He did not return to school, much to his mom’s dismay.

That summer was one big party, and he got a new job at his roomie’s dad’s office as a technician.

He began chasing one of the tenants in the apartment complex named fat Cindy. Yep, she was portly, but cute. He went after her, and screwed her for a couple of months. She knew his folks too.

Mom had called him one Friday evening, soon after he got home from work. It was customary to smoke a J when he got home. His mom called for him to come over, and he was so stoned that he blew her off. She mentioned it to him several days later, at which time he offered to listen.

“I really needed to talk to you when I called” she said sadly.

Mom, being a mom, kept after him to go back to school. She offered to pay his tuition if he would move back home, and return to school. So he did.

It was great timing, as he had decided to break it off with fat Cindy. He moved back home and continued his technician job part-time when he returned to school.

Fat Cindy would drop by from time to time, but Marshall pretended to be busy in his room by spreading out pages of COBOL print reports.

Band buddy had to move to another apartment, as he could no longer afford to live in that place since Marshall moved out.

Marshall had bought a new car, with his mom co-signing the loan at the credit union. He discussed with her a later about getting a loan to add a/c to the car. She just said that all he had to do was add it on to his current loan, and the credit union would be very agreeable to a change.

As he left to go to band buddy’s new pad, he stopped by the fridge and pulled the last RC and headed out the door.

They decided to swim in the apt pool that afternoon. Band buddy’s pad was right on poolside and left the window open to hear the phone.

It rang, and it was youngest brother calling for Marshall. “Mom’s been a car accident. It looks pretty bad. We’re down at the emergency room.”

Marshall decided to go home and change out of his wet cutoffs. His mom’s car was blocking the intersection to get home. They could not tow it because it had been T-boned badly. There were several police cars still there and a crowd. He turned and went to the hospital in his wet cutoffs.

His mom died later that evening. As it turned out, she was going to make a quick trip to the store to get some more RC, since someone drank the last one.

The days and weeks that followed, were sometimes blurry. Marshall would find himself looking for mom when we arrived at home. She used to have his lunch fixed with a tv tray while she watched her soap.

He enrolled at school that semester.

He got a job offer from the bike shop to open a new store in another city.

He dropped out of school, and went back to the bicycle industry.

Later that year, he bought himself a new Yamaha 650 motorcycle.

He  moved to Laredo in January, and regretted it almost immediately. He kept in touch with the office machine company in hopes he could return. He did, a year later, and left fixing bikes behind forever.

Marine dad married what Marshall and his brothers referred to as the ‘wicked witch of the west’. The boys guessed that he must have liked to be told what to do, because he jumped whenever she called. The boys were never as close to Marine dad after he remarried. One of the biggest issues was that they were married on mom’s birthday. No explanations or apologies were given. They pissed away their money on some property in the Texas hill country, where they built their legacy.

He stayed at the office machine company until January 1994. During the time before he left, he gained a lot of respect from the people that ran the business, as well as his fellow technicians. He was schooled on copiers during this time, and discovered he had a knack for it.

He dated a girl briefly, but they just couldn’t seem to click. There wasn’t even a breakup, which was always good.

He got infatuated with one of his customers, a Hispanic woman. She was  unable to date, as her daddy kept her close. She and her two older sisters still lived at home with daddy. He ran the house like a stalag.

She did manage to get away once or twice, saying she was going to the mall. They tried having sex, but when she removed her bra, she had hair instead of nipples. He could not perform for her, and she tried vigorously to stimulate him…nope. That breakup was difficult, and eventually, his office lost that account. Ooops.

His band buddy, hooked him up with one of their Amway and Mormon church pals. Voices inside Marshall said don’t do it. He did anyway. She had two children: eight year old girl, and three year old boy.

He felt he was ready to take the plunge; be responsibly married with two kids.

He gave away all his booze to a friend and vowed to stop drinking to win her. They married at the house.

She was a  nurse and got a really good job working 60 miles away on the night shift. There were several times when a week would go by and they would be like ghosts passing in the night. The old feelings came back again, and he began to abuse the boy. He spanked the boy for destroying a picture of one of Marshall’s friends and family. He spanked him several times, so  much that he had bruises on his bottom.

His wife discovered them and Marshall fessed up. She insisted that he get help and he called his old psychotherapist and had a couple of sessions.

He started drinking again, and one night after he got up off the couch to go to bed, she wanted to have sex. He refused, and thus began the end of that relationship.

They had put money down on a  house, as he had agreed to rent his house to a friends relative at work, who was moving down from Idaho.

His grandfather had passed away, leaving him twenty-two thousand dollars.

He decided to proceed with the divorce, and stopped proceedings on the new house, getting a refund on their earnest money.

She was angry and hurt and told him that she wanted half that money, or she would make the divorce ‘very difficult’. So he gave her half.

The people moved into his house, and Marshall found an apartment.

She would drop by wanting to reunite, but he was done with that relationship, but hinted that they might get together later on.

He had signed up for one of those singles call in leave a  message about yourself services. He received several interested calls from women. He decided it was easy to see why some people would go to these kinds of services…none were particularly attractive, but sweet just the same.

He applied for a  job in Austin fixing copiers, and interviewed for it. He got the job, and left his former life behind.

He ended up living with Jacob, his old friend, and his wife and her daughter for six months, until he hooked up with his supervisor’s girlfriend, causing a rift in the company. They resigned and moved to Denver, where he got a job at the copier corporation.

His brother felt bad about losing big brother so far away. Marshall never considered it, and didn’t tell him until after he was moving.

They bought a new car. She got a job across town, and they had a good life.

The first baby came less than a year later. He was a healthy lad, and a pure joy.

Marshall remembered abusing him on two separate occasions, but there may have been more.

He sold his house in Texas, and was able to get a substantial tax refund for the loss he claimed. With this money, they bought a house.

They took the boy to daycare, where he was a favorite of many teachers.

Marine dad and his new wife would drive up and visit from time to time in their motor home.

They drove to Marshall’s youngest  brother’s home in OKC for Thanksgiving and even other brother attended. It was quite a reunion.

The second boy arrived in ’98. He was not as healthy as his brother, but Marshall and his wife took turns taking him to therapy, where he seemed to advance fine.

When Marshall and his wife would watch tv in the evenings, #1 son would always participate. Little boy would scooch across the floor and climb up and sit by Marshall. His wife commented that ‘he sure is attached to you.’

Marshall had dreams about Dimples, whose real name was Linda. He dreamed of her often, and when he did, he would always fell exceptionally good for a week.

He got fed up with corporate bullshit and left the corp for another corp that paid more, and he did less. He first searched for Linda while at this job on the web. He had no luck, but at that time, the internet was in its infancy, and he really didn’t know how to use it.

He still dreamed about her.

That job closed just over a year later, after Marshall had signed up for a class to become a Microsoft certified engineer. Through that school, he got his next job.

It worked out well, and he was away from home a lot, traveling to various stores for a national electronics retail outlet. That job was temporary, and after the temp position was over, he got on the help desk as a technician. A few months later, he applied for a slightly higher position working with the pc technicians.

It was this position that allowed him to finally find Linda, after all these years. He chose his words carefully, and emailed her at the school where she taught.

He used his office email address, not wanting to get busted again at home for an internet romance.

After a couple of days, she emailed back. Marshall was absolutely thrilled while opening the email.

They exchanged emails for a few months, and Marshall’s wife busted him. He was forced to make a decision; go or stay. He went.

He found a job, backsliding in the world of repairing copiers, and he moved back to south Texas. Linda and he were married later that year.

How he loved her. She was everything and more that he had imagined over the years. She had a daughter, 13, who had been diagnosed with some type of mental illness, but Marshall thought she was just a spoiled rotten lazy brat. He dealt with her the best he could.

They bought the townhouse they lived in, sold that, made some money, and bought a larger house. It had its problems, but he did what he could to fix it up. Linda’s mother passed away. Linda inherited her home, sold it, and they blew eighty thousand dollars faster than one could imagine. Linda did put in a swimming pool in the back yard with part of the inheritance.

A couple years later, Marshall’s brother lent him a book on survival after a societal collapse. He was hooked on “prepping” although he never really liked the term.

Being a felon, however, severely limited his need to ‘stock up’ on guns and ammo. Linda was agreeable, to a point, and she purchased several firearms.

Life was pretty good, except for the felony. He hated the job he had to take to move to be with Linda. It ate at him for years. He applied at a couple of places, but the new security thing now was background checks. He lied on apps because if he did admit he had a felony conviction, that was pretty much the end of that particular application process.

So many times, he wished he could travel back in time and tell himself how to change his life…so many times.

THE DREAM

He went to sleep one night late in 2012 and had a dream.

He was in a large room…no, like outdoors, but without form. It was quiet, and there was light, yet Marshall could not distinguish a floor, sky, ceiling,  or walls.

He stood quietly, afraid to move. He could feel his feet standing on something solid, but the ground was like a slight swirling mist or fog.

Then The Voice startled him “Well, this is your big night, isn’t it?” He could not see from where The Voice came. It was very loud, and it sounded angry.

“I don’t understand” Marshall said. “Where am I and who are you?”

A sound like pages being turned became louder and The Voice responded with “it is not at all important who I am or where you are. You are here because of your incessant wishing to change your pathetic, miserable life.”
Marshall wasn’t sure how it happened, but several memories he had were now displayed either in his head, or on a type of screen.

The Voice continued “I voted against giving you a chance, but I was overruled.”

The videos showed Marshall throwing the bottle at his brother, squirting shampoo up his nose, pushing the child into the swimming pool, terrorizing and abusing the neighbor kids, and all other bad things Marshall had done in his life.

Talking back to mom, lying to his friends, making fun of his brother to his friends, back-talking to gramma, blowing off his mom, there were many bad things that he had forgotten.

Seeing the memories, which seemed to flash by in an instant, yet they kept repeating over and over.

The Voice continued “you are probably the most pathetic excuse for a human being I have ever had the displeasure to speak to. You have abused animals, your brothers, your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your wives, and finally worst of all, your children!”

Marshall was angry now and afraid “why the hell do you care what happens to me?”

The Voice was noticeably agitated, and it sounded like it was rising out of a huge chair.

The videos stopped.

Marshall thought he heard the sound of a large book being slammed shut.

“We could erase humanity and every evidence of its existence with a blink of an eye. You interest us because you are an aberration; a deviance from the norm if you will. We allow, from time to time, and individual to improve, at their own volition.”

“Your wish has been granted” The Voice continued “you are hereby given a chance to go back in time and change your life.”

“Are you my guardian angel?” Marshall asked.

The Voice stifled a chuckle “yes and no” it replied.

The Voice continued “We have a rule on how this works.”

“Are you telling me that I will be going back in time to tell myself how to change my life?” Marshall queried “and make it better?”

“Yes” answered The Voice “as I was saying, we have one rule. If you choose disobey it, you will return to your present life the way you left it.”

Marshall nodded.

“The main rule is that you cannot disclose events that will happen….PERIOD! Do you understand?”

“Yes” he replied.

“Don’t screw this up because you will have to live with the fact that you had your chance to make a lot of things better, and couldn’t” The Voice hissed.

“I understand” Marshall said.

“I’ll give you some advice” The Voice went on “there is something wrong with you. After you beat your son to death, you got some professional help. I urge you to fix that problem when you return because it will not go away.”

“OK.”

“The last piece of advice is this: tell yourself to be a better big brother. Your brothers looked up to you, and they still love you after all you did to them. It could be much better though. Got it?”

“Yes sir” Marshall replied.

“Are you ready?” The Voice asked him.

“Yes. Will I ever speak to you again?” asked Marshall.

Again, a slight snicker. “It will depend on you.”

The area around Marshall began to change…like a digital picture being re-pixelated.

“One more thing” The Voice said “there will be a price to pay for this, if you are successful.”

The digitization kept changing the scene.

After a few moments, Marshall was sitting in his Ford Ranger outside of the grease monkey shop. It was a hot sunny afternoon in what Marshall figured was summer of 1973.

Marshall saw himself, as a younger man, moving the riding mower back into position in front of the store.

THE TRIP BACK

Marshall got out of the truck, and watched himself back the riding mower up against the front of the store, next to the cement mixer.

The young Marshall; 6’2″, shoulder length blonde hair, 140 lbs. Young Marshall saw Marshall and walked over to him.

“That’s a nice truck, sir. What year is that?”

Marshall answered “this is a 2002 Ford Ranger. It’s kind of a test model.”

Young Marshall walked around the truck slowly while Marshall pulled out his wallet.

Young Marshall was starting to look apprehensive about this whole encounter. “How can I help you today, sir?” He asked.

By then, Marshall had his wallet out and said “do I look familiar to you…Marshall?”

Young Marshall seemed surprised and Marshall held out his driver’s license for Young Marshall to see. Young Marshall reached for it, but when he touched it, his fingers went through it like it was a ghost. This unnerved him even more, yet he studied the license, and looked at Marshall. “That street doesn’t even exist” he said.

“No, not yet” Marshall replied, pulling out some dollar bills from his wallet, that were dated 2008. Young Marshall studied them as well without attempting to touch them.

Young Marshall said finally “who are you?”

“I am you” Marshall replied “40 years from now. I have been given a gift to come back and talk to you and get you to change your life before you ruin it.”

“I’m you?” Young Marshall said, stunned.

“Need more proof?” Marshall said “ok, you drive a 1962 Studebaker. It has an inline six-cylinder, three speed on the tree with overdrive. It has a positrac rear end. Every Saturday night, you go out with your pals, smoke dope, and get high. Am I right so far?”

Young Marshall nodded nervously.

“You used to beat up your neighbor’s kids when you were younger. You used to steal money from your parents to support your spending habits. You wrecked your motorcycle on a race last year, and hurt your leg. You still went to visit your pal and rode golf carts around at night at the Country Club. The first time you got high, your pal and you were going to the dentist. You used to make stove top smoke bombs, and your brother almost burned the house down making one. How am I doin’?”

“Ok” Young Marshall said, looking around “you’re me from 40 years in the future, and you have some advice to give me to change my life. What’s wrong with my life?”

“Plenty” Marshall said. “Are you ready? There’s quite a few things, and I don’t have a lot of time for this.”

Young Marshall nodded.

“The first and most important thing you must do is avoid at all costs, a girl named Terri. You know who I’m talking about, yes?”

Young Marshall nodded.

Marshall continued “stay away from her. Be nice, but don’t let her throw herself at you. Be friendly, but don’t get involved with her at all. If you get cornered, just tell her you’re not interested. Got that?”

Young Marshall nodded.

“Clean up your act. Cut your hair, stop smoking pot and cigarettes. Go spend your spare time chasing Linda. She likes you and always has. She’s just shy. Take your time to get to know her. Don’t rush.”

Marshall paused, then went on “next year, you’ll graduate. Don’t stay working here. Get out as soon as you can. Go to college, then join the Navy, or just join the Navy. If you stay in for 20 years, you’ll be out before you’re forty with a nice pension for the rest of your life. If you get your degree first, you can join the Navy as an officer, and get an even bigger pension when you retire.”

“What about Linda?” Young Marshall queried.

“Just court her and see what happens. If it works out, then marry her, and she’ll follow you wherever you go.”

Marshall continued “be a better big brother. You’ve treated your brothers like shit all their lives, and they still look up to you. Set a better example of what a big brother should be. Listen to them. They have problems too. Be their friend. The rewards you will get from changing this aspect of your life will return to you a thousand fold. There are few things more important than family.  Are you with me so far?”

Young Marshall nodded.

“What I spoke of earlier…your abusing kids…you need to get help and fix that because it will always be with you. There’s a great psychotherapist down the street. Get help and fix it soon, OK?”

Young Marshall looked away “and what if I don’t?”

“Then you could get yourself into a situation with a child and you could hurt him; or worse. If and when you get caught, you could get into a lot of trouble. This is probably the second most important piece of advice. You know of what I speak. Fix it.”

“Save your money and invest in a company called Microsoft. Got that? Microsoft. Buy their stock and sit on it until you get out of the Navy. Then buy yourself a nice ranch in Wyoming. Get the hell outa here. This place will drag you down.”
“All these things I have told you to do, you must do or your life will suck when you get older. I am not allowed to tell you what will happen in your future. If you do what I have suggested, you will have a wonderful life, and want for nothing.”

The boss came out and said to Young Marshall “get back to work.” He looked at Marshall and said “buy something or leave. You’re distracting my help. I ain’t payin’ him to stand around and talk.”

“Mr. Norton” Marshall started “do you still have that Colt .45? If you do, I urge you to get rid of it once and for all, as it will only cause you pain and grief.”

He stood with his hands in his hips, and Marshall walked over to the Ranger and got in.

Marshall looked at Young Marshall as he started the truck. He rolled the window down, and flashed him a peace sign as he backed up. As he drove onto the street, the digitization began again. His view faded to gray.

LATE DECEMBER, 2012

Marshall opened his eyes. The light was faint. He looked up at the ceiling and determined that this room was not where he had gone to sleep earlier.

The ceiling was made of nicely done wooden planks and exposed wooden beams. He turned his head, noticing that it was chilly in the room. The light was coming through a large plate glass window. Someone was sleeping next to him and snoring softly.

He turned and sat on the side of the bed. The person next to him stirred and said “Merry Christmas, my darling man.” It was Linda.

He kissed her and said “Merry Christmas, Love of my Life.”

Next to his bed was a chair with clothes on it. He put them on. He already had long johns on. He donned a nice pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. He noticed his huge spare tire had disappeared.

He walked to the window, and peeked through the blinds. There was snow on the window, and the ground was white as far as he could see, and still snowing.

“I guess I’ll get up too” Linda said “the kids will all be up in a few minutes.”

She whipped her legs around and sat on the side of the bed. “Were you going to make breakfast for everyone? You better get started ’cause you’ve got an army to feed this morning.”

Marshall looked around some more. The bedroom was very large, and very nice. Log cabin style walls. He stumbled around and found the master bath. He took care of business, brushed his teeth, and put on the pair of boots that were also by the chair. They fit nicely. He sat down in the chair.

Linda seemed to be waiting for something “what are you doing?” she asked, standing up and stretching. “Did you forget something?”

“I have forgotten everything” Marshall said with hesitation, wondering if this was the price to pay, according to The Voice.

She walked briskly to him, touching his forehead asking “are you feeling all right? The whole family is here and will be hungry when they get up…not to mention opening up gifts. You need to get started…it’s your tradition, you know.” She smiled.

“Please define ‘the whole family’”he said.

She looked startled “our three kids and the grandchildren, your brothers and their kids. What is the matter with you?”

“I feel fine” he started “what I’m going to tell you now is going to seem like a Stephen King novel.”
Her eyes got wide, and she sat down on his side of the bed. He went through what had happened in a nutshell without going into details.

“So what is different for you now?” she asked, with a note of apprehension.

“I don’t remember this house” he answered, looking around “This is not the room I went to sleep in last night.”

Linda was speechless.

“I’m telling you, I went to bed last night, and we lived in south Texas. This is a good thing except that according to The Voice, there was a price to pay…this may be it…me not remembering this timeline.”

“What do you want me to do?” Linda asked on the verge of tears.

“I need you to believe me, and take me on a tour of the house…now” he replied, giving her a peck on the cheek. “Please.”

She nodded, and went into the bathroom to change. It took her less time than usual.

She came out with her Christmas garb; a nice sweater with a Christmas greeting on it.

She took Marshall’s hand and led him to the bedroom door, and opened it. She turned and said “watch your head. There is a step down here. It was your idea” she said with a chuckle.

Sure enough, Marshall would have certainly rammed his head into the cross beam above the threshold as he stepped down into the hall.

They were standing in an open hallway. The hall opened into a huge living area. She led him into the living area after flicking on a couple of light switches. The living area contained two couches, a reclining love seat for two that reclined separately, several end tables, some ottomans, and a large coffee table in the center. It had huge logs for supports and the ceiling was vaulted with exposed beams.

A large fireplace was at one end of the room, and Linda walked over and began stoking it. “This is usually your job” she said, and Marshall helped her. The fire began to start up quickly.

The second floor balcony surrounded the living room on three sides. A huge double wide staircase was at opposite end of the fireplace. The balcony had several doors off of it, bathrooms and bedrooms, Linda explained. She seemed proud to talk of the home. It was Marshall’s idea, mostly, she said.

She led him into the kitchen which was also Marshall’s idea. “You love this kitchen” she said with her dimply smile.

“Indeed I do” Marshall said, also smiling.

The kitchen was a center island with gas stove, sink, cutting area, and trash area. The kitchen also had a double oven and a huge fridge.

He walked right to the fridge, opened it and began removing supplies for the breakfast feast.

Heavy footsteps echoed across the living room, and Marshall’s younger brother Joe came into view. “Merry Christmas my brutha” he said, walking to Marshall.

“A very Merry Christmas to you suh” he replied in his best English accent. Marshall gave Joe a big hug.

More footsteps and more people headed to the kitchen. Joe’s wife Susie and youngest brother Eddie walked up with Christmas greetings and hugs. Marshall wiped tears and he hugged his family.

He made a pot of coffee, pulled out a bottle of Kahlua, and invited them to sit at the table.

“Before the kids get up” Marshall began “I’ve got something to say, and it’s going to sound like I belong in a rubber room, but I assure you it is the truth.” He held up his right hand like he was swearing an oath.

He went into little more detail this time, explaining the various differences in the timelines. He explained his visit to himself in the summer of ’73, giving him a chance to change his life.

“Now” Marshall continued, looking around “where is this place? How long have we lived here?”

There was a brief moment of silence and Linda answered “we moved here when you got out of the Navy  in1998. You sold your stock in Microsoft, made a fortune, and bought this ranch. We moved here and lived in the guest house” she gestured outside “and you designed this home. It has a basement too, with a lot of secret rooms and places. The main house is connected by underground tunnel to the original guest house.There is a root cellar off of the tunnel as well, and other secret rooms that I don’t even know about.

This is a 500 acre ranch. You have many horses, chickens, pigs,and cattle. There is a bunkhouse with a couple of hired hands that live there. We have an artesian well. We grow alfalfa, some winter wheat, and have some huge vegetable gardens. We have rooms and rooms of stored foods; canned, dry goods, bottled water, soap, medicine…the list goes on. You have rooms of guns, rifles, ammunition…I don’t know all the kind of stuff you have. I just know that your guns of choice are a Ruger .44 magnum and a 30-30.  You also prefer your Mossberg 12 gauge. You’re an excellent shot too. You have a safe with gold, silver, and cash in it.”

Eddie started to speak “I remember that summer. You changed from a mean guy to almost like my best friend overnight. You cut your hair…”

Joe interrupted “Yeah, I remember that you quit smoking too, and that’s when you started…” he looked at Linda.

Linda’s eyes got big “I remember you called me from out of nowhere that summer. I don’t think I ever said ‘no’ to you” she smiled.

Marshall smiled back “no, you didn’t…and you still don’t.”

Joe stood up, and came over to Marshall, putting his hands on Marshall’s shoulders. “Marshall, that explains a lot because you obviously changed practically from one day to the next; it was very noticeable. You became my best friend too, and were my best go to person for advice.”

“So what happened after I graduated high school?” Marshall queried the group.

At that moment, Eddie’s wife came over and sat down. It was the same wife he had had in the previous timeline, Donna Jo.

Marshall walked over and hugged her, giving her Christmas greetings as well. She looked confused.

Linda continued “you stayed in south Texas and went to college. I went off to college. It was so hard to be apart from you. We got married after we graduated, and you joined the Navy and went to OCS. You stayed in the Navy for 20 years, and got out in ’98 when we all moved here. We have three children; Nathan, Gerald, and AmandaLynn…”

She stopped and a look of horror came over her face “did you have children in the other timeline?”

Marshall nodded slowly, looking at her “so did you, but she wasn’t mine. You had a previous marriage before we met. That timeline is gone, and my children only exist in my memories.”

Linda and Susie both teared up and sniffed.

Marshall looked at Joe and Susie “you had two boys…”

“We still do” Joe said quickly. Adam and Alan.”

Marshall nodded with approval “those are the same ones that I remember.”

“What about us?” Eddie asked a scared look on his face.

“You had three kids; Joanna, Justin, and Mason.”

They both breathed a sigh of relief.

“So you don’t know our children” Linda stated.

Marshall shook his head.

Tiny footsteps now were heard running toward the table.

“Grandpa!” the little voice exclaimed “Merry Christmas!” she said as she ran straight to Marshall, and climbed into his lap.

“Grandpa” Linda started “say Merry Christmas to Anna-Lee. Her daddy is Nathan.”

Marshall gave the little tyke a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas with tears in his eyes.  Blonde hair in pig tails, big blue eyes…she was adorable.

“Where’s your daddy?” asked Marshall boldly.

She looked a little confused and replied “grandpa, daddy, uncle Gerry, and Aunt Mandy are doing chores.”

More footsteps approaching the table were those of Adam and Alan. They were handsome young men and Marshall cried when he hugged Adam. He couldn’t stop or let go.

Joe helped him away from the very confused Adam and asked “what’s wrong?”

Marshall gathered his composure and answered “Adam was severely injured in a motorcycle accident and broke his back and neck. He was confined to a wheel chair. He went on to graduate from NTSU with a degree in graphic arts, and worked for NIKE in Oregon.” He wiped his eyes. Others were crying too.

“What’s wrong with Uncle Marshall?” asked Adam.

“He’s had a very interesting story to tell” Joe replied. Just sit and listen.” Joe turned to Marshall “what about Alan?”

“Alan married his high school sweetheart after he graduated from A&M with a degree in engineering. His wife was expecting their first late next summer.”

He continued “Susie got her RN after Alan got married, and she made us all proud, getting her degree in two years and making the dean’s list. You had worked for the caliche place, then quite after nineteen years, then took over manager of a local construction company, where you were still.”

Marshall paused and asked “mom and dad?”

Joe responded “oh they’re fine. They couldn’t make it this year, because of  mom’s hip. It still gives her trouble, you know.”

“Where are they living?” Marshall asked.

“Still at the same place we lived as kids” Joe said….”why, did something happen different in your timeline?”

Marshall nodded “mom was killed in a car accident a week after hurricane Alan.
Dad remarried the wicked witch of the west, who caused a lot of pain in the family.”

“Mom survived the wreck, but she broke her pelvis, and it always gives her problems here in the cold country” Eddie added.

Marshall teared up again. He managed to choke out “I’ve missed her.”

Susie added “mom just loves Linda, being an educator and all.” She smiled.

Marshall got up and said “I promised breakfast, and ye shall have it. I could use a little help..”Anna-Lee said “me me me!”

The crowd chuckled.

Soon breakfast steaks, pancakes, gravy, milk, juice, coffee, laughter, jokes, and scrambled eggs, and the sound of plates clinking from silverware echoed through the house.

“Did everyone sleep ok?” Marshall asked “everybody warm enough?”

Nods and mm mms resounded.

“Why don’t all of you just move up here?” Marshall posed the question.

The conversation at the table stopped.

Marshall continued, still eating and looking at Linda “we have lots of money, right?”

Linda nodded cautiously.

“Well, we’re going to need help running this place in the not too distant future. You guys who are interested, quit your jobs, get your money together, draw some plans, we’ll build your house, and just move on up. Think about it. I’m sure it’s been discussed and now it’s time to decide.
We have schools here for the young ones, and what’s more important than family? I can tell that everyone loves it here. You’d have your own responsibilities of course, but there’s what? fifteen of us altogether?” Marshall kept eating.

The others ate silently.

Marshall went on “I’ve never liked  being apart from my family. I moved here to get away from a local society that dragged down my potential. Call this a Christmas present from us to all of you. I’ll talk to mom and dad too. I’d prefer to have everyone here when the stuff hits the fan. If you don’t it may be too late by then to get you out.”

“Thanks Marshall” Joe said. “Yes, we have discussed it and we will again.

They heard a door close somewhere, and stomping ensued. Then more footsteps came close.

Marshall got nervous.

The first person to around the corner was Amanda Lynn. She had her mother’s nose, and  dimples.She looked a lot like Linda when she was in high school. She was decked out in a flannel shirt, and jeans. She had put on some house slippers…like her mom does.

She walked right over to Marshall, who was waiting for her. and hugged him saying “Merry Christmas, daddy.” She kissed him on the cheek, and by then, Marshall had tears flowing from his eyes.

“Merry Christmas, baby” he replied.

“Are you ok daddy?” she asked.

“I have never been better” he replied, kissing her on the forehead.

Two handsome men then appeared from around the corner. It was obvious who was who. Nathan, was slightly taller than Marshall. He was thin with blonde hair. The other was Gerald, just three years younger. He was a few inches shorter and a more stocky. He had blonde hair as well, but looked like it was starting to turn darker.

They both greeted and hugged Marshall “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

“Merry Christmas, boys” Marshall replied, thinking momentarily about his other boys that he would never see again. He teared right up, but went into conversation. “Y’all sit down and eat. Looks like you two don’t ever eat these days.”

The laughed and sat down, looking at Linda for explanation. “Your dad’s not quite himself today” she said “you’ll have to give him some slack as his memory seems to have some gaps.”

Joe began “Marshall just asked all of us to move up here for good.”

The boys “that would be great. He’s been talking about that ever since what’s his name got elected to the presidency.”

“He has?” said Joe.

The boys were eating and they just nodded.

When he finished his mouthful, Nathan said “he’s got site plans for all of you picked out. Lots of strategy involved, but we thought it was a good plan.” He took another bite.

Marshall took over the conversation. “Construction could start in the spring. You folks cash in your 401k accounts, profit sharing, sell your homes, have estate auctions and get up here. The guest house is vacant if you any of you get here early. Any and all are welcome to stay here until your own homes are finished. The main thing is, get your money out now. Open accounts here, and we’ll continue to stock up on supplies. Buy gold and silver if you like. We’ll pull cash out and keep it here in the safe for you, if you like.”

The room was silent except for Anna-Lee who was humming, eating the last of her pancake.

Linda continued “you all know how he is. This part of him has not changed. There is enough supplies stored here to last all of us for several years. You know he’s not going to let up until all of you are here….all I have to ask it this: why do you hesitate?”

Joe spoke up “we have spoke of this considerably. You’re asking us to give up everything to do this.”

“Joe” Marshall replied quietly “what else to you need in your life? Your children are healthy. You have money. I know you hate living where you are, because of the constant heat and bugs. You have always had the rancher bug in you, but decided to stay there. There is hunting here, farming, ranching, construction, gardening, just to name a few. Susie, you’d be in charge of our infirmary and probably nutrition for the entire ranch. If you need more, there are hospitals in town that could certainly use your expertise.”

Marshall continued “I’m going to call the contractor after the holidays, give him a huge deposit, and start the preliminaries when the thaw begins.” He sipped the last of his coffee.

“Now, how do we get around our ranch in the winter?” Marshall asked no one in particular.

“Snowmobiles!” was the answer.

“Let’s go for a tour!” Marshall said. “I need to see what we got! After we open presents and see what Santa brought.”

The rest of Christmas Day was spent doing Christmas, and exploring the ranch. As it turned out, Marshall had six snowmobiles. Joe, Eddie, Marshall, Alan, Adam, Nathan, Gerald, Mandy (her nickname) all went exploring the property. Marshall rode behind Nathan.

It was snowing lightly, and it was cold; probably around 5-10 degrees. They all dressed warmly, and Nathan knew the safe paths.

The artesian well was located in the barnyard. It had a very sturdy brick structure around it. It filled a 500 gallon cistern, that was pressurized by a pump with two backup pumps. All structures had their own cisterns with fresh water.

When they finished the basic perimeter tour, they showed him the barns and the livestock.

They toured the guest house, and walked the tunnel. Several rooms off the tunnel had supplies; food, ammunition. Some rooms were empty.

Marshall could not have improved anything.

They returned to the main house, and the ladies had prepared a feast of turkey, brisket, and all fixings to go with.

There was laughter, hugging, smiles, plates and forks clanging…like a family should sound.

They sat in front of the fireplace after dinner talking. Marshall was served Crown Reserve, his favorite; in any timeline. He was glad that several things had not changed.

When he went to bed that night, he had no trouble falling asleep. He dreamed.

CONCLUSION

He dreamed again of the room without form. It was gray with the swirling mist.

Again, The Voice said “are you pleased with the outcome of your life? Did you listen to yourself?”

“Yes” Marshal answered. “I will miss my children though.”

“You remember I told you that you would pay a price?”

“Yes, and perhaps I have not yet realized the full price?” Marshall stated.

“What have you discovered so far?”

“My children are strangers to me. And I have no memory of my current life.”

“It’s interesting that you mentioned your children first, and not ‘all about you’.”

“Despite what you have seen me do in my life, I loved my two boys” Marshall said, at the risk of sounding indignant.

The Voice sighed with “I knew that. You must have wanted this bad because I didn’t think you could do it; even knowing the penalty.”

It paused then continued “you are correct about the price that you paid. You will always remember the other timeline. Your memories of this timeline will return over time.”

Marshall was sobbing. He managed to choke out “thank you.”

Linda was waking him up. His face and pillow were wet with tears.