James L. Cowles

© Copyright 2019 by James L. Cowles

Photo of newspaper headline--"CRASH1"

You might say, Tim Needles has an appropriate name. He is one of the most nervous guys who ever lived, always on pins & “needles” and with a very bad habit of worrying about every little detail in life. You might say he has always seen the glass half empty.

Tim got married in the early nineteen-sixties at the tender age of nineteen, with a bride who was only sixteen, and pregnant; that alone would burden most men, but he was a worrier long before that. He seemed to have unique abilities many would see as a gift, but he wanted no part of them; they were a nuisance; “Nothing good in that stuff,” he’d say. Unfortunately this “gift” bewildered him, adding more stress to his life, so he never had a desire to develop it. What about these so called abilities you ask? The first time he knew he could see things others couldn’t was when he was only eight years old, sitting on the sofa in his living room watching his mother wash dishes. She had repeatedly asked him to take out the garbage and finally, in quite a snit of arrogance, he said, “Nope; don’t have too!” It was something an eight year old might say to another eight year old, but when said to your mother, trouble awaits. He wasn’t quite finished with his condescending attitude either and so he added; “I’m not gonna do it and you can’t make me.” His mother, a quiet, somewhat meek woman, told him he would be sorry for “sassing” her, but he was not afraid and foolishly stuck to his guns. “You can’t make me, momma” he said, laughing right in her face. He didn’t realize he was about to learn a very hard lesson about his own undeveloped abilities; it would change his life.

Tim’s next door neighbor, James, had a grandmother who often baby sat him when his parents wanted to get away for an evening and she would allow Tim to visit. She had once told the boys about an awful spirit she called, the “Bald-Bellar.” Granny was a full-blooded Native American and Tim loved hearing her stories. She seemed to be full of odd tales, mamy of which were from her childhood and they were fascinating to young impressionable children such as Tim and James. She also was glad to have Tim visit because it kept James from getting bored during the evening. However, she would always insist the boys sit in the kitchen with her, with the rest of the house in total darkness. This was no doubt a way to keep the boys near her, so she could keep an eye on them and not have to get up to chase them, but they were always too scared to move anyway, mostly because of her tales.

Sitting on the sofa in his living room, he was remembering the warning Granny had given the boys, telling them she had seen this awful spirit once when she was a bad little girl. She cautioned them that if they didn’t want to see this horrid creature, they had better be good. It had indeed proven quite an effective tool to keep them quiet and close during her baby-sitting duties, but was it real? Tim remembered those words, “the creature’s head is spoon-shaped and it is brown all over, with an ugly sharp-toothed filled mouth and big red eyes on the side of his head. He only appears when children are bad. He also has been known to bite bad little children with his very sharp teeth and sometimes even eat them.” That part made Tim’s blood run cold with fear. The old woman had a very strange look on her face when she said i. It was downright scary, but now he sat on the sofa and laughed as he remembered her tale and the warning she had given. “She just wanted to keep us close, that’s all,” he thought. As he sat there, he began thumbing through his “Boys Life” magazine, thinking about going fishing, but he couldn’t help but notice his mother crying softly, although he tried to ignore her, determined to stick it out and not feel guilty. She, like him, was also a very nervous person, a trait Tim no doubt inherited from her. He knew she was hurt deeply by his words, but he looked straight ahead, trying his best to ignore her tears. From his position he could see the door to the only bathroom and although he couldn’t be sure, he thought he saw a slight movement there. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him; he knew his mother and he were the only two at home and he could see her standing just ten feet from him. As he watched the bathroom door something that looked like the ugly “Bald-Bellar” Granny had described, appeared in the doorway and ground its teeth at Tim, staring menacingly. He was pretty sure he was not dreaming and for the first time, was convinced this hideous creature existed. The old woman wasn’t so crazy after all, was she?

All he could think about was his need for protection and so he ran to his mother, hugging her and apologizing for sassing her. It was he who was crying now. She hugged him of course and couldn’t imagine what he was blubbering about, but decided to use this as an opportune time for a life lesson. She said, “I told you, you would be sorry, didn’t I? Don’t, ever sass me again, young man, do you understand me?” Of course Tim agreed immediately, as he did not want to go back into that living room to see that thing again. The garbage got emptied very quickly after that and when he returned, he wisely decided to linger in the kitchen with his mother. Later, when he told his friends what had happened, they just laughed and said he was crazy, but that day became a day of change for Tim Needles, because he immediately became more aware of how he treated others. It was not his imagination, no, no, it wasn’t. He knew he did not want to ever see that ugly bald creature again.

When Tim turned twenty-one, his mother became very ill with stomach cancer. In many ways, his three sisters, all older than he, still treated him much like a child. They knew how ill their mother was, but were concerned the truth might “upset Timmy,” so they kept it from him as long as they could. They surmised that he had enough on his plate, what with a new baby and both he and his wife being so young. Tim already knew something was terribly wrong, he just didn’t know what. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he spent weeks coming home from work, eating a light supper and going straight to bed. He didn’t tell his wife, but he sensed an impending disaster and sleeping was somehow his way of avoiding reality. He thought it was a good defense, so he feigned illness, telling his wife he was just working too hard. He somehow knew that someone in the family was going to die and it scared him to his core. He had death on his mind almost every second of his life after that and kept thinking, if he “slept,” at least the pain would stop, but it didn’t. When his youngest sister finally confided in him, he was sure that God, an Angel, or a Spirit of some kind had been trying to prepare him for his mother’s death and oddly, he felt comforted by that. When she died, he became deeply spiritual and much more religious, going to church every time the doors opened. Still, he resisted developing his “spiritual senses,” although he knew they were there. Despite his maturity, he could not help but remember that “Bald-Beller” and he stressed out when he thought about “messing with the spirits.” He feared he might conjure up something very evil if he wasn’t careful. Tim had plenty of “smarts,” but didn’t realize he had above average intelligence, even though he scored high on an IQ test. Somehow, he had the silly notion that a lack of intelligence was linked to the spiritual world. It was certainly a shame, but he feared exploring his God given ability to communicate with the “spirits.” The young man was screwed up in so many ways, but perhaps the only good thing that came from such an early marriage was it forced him to focus on his future and he decided he needed to make more money to support his small family. He was determined to be successful and set out to be so.

In today’s terms, Tim would easily have been diagnosed as having a severe case of ADD, but in the nineteen-sixties, such a thing was rare. When he was in high school, his attention span was practically nil. He was always daydreaming in class and often times waited until the last minute to study for a test or complete a project. Still, his grades were mostly above average, but never-the-less, he believed he had a cloud over his head and had developed somewhat of a tendency to see himself as the “target” for bad things, despite the fact his negativity often led to the very result he dreaded. Certainly no one could say he was the product of positive thinkers, as both his parents were unable to complete high school, although it was not their fault. Both had lived in a very rural sitting and because they had never had very much materially, they seemed satisfied with living meager lives. On the other hand, Tim wanted to improve his lot and when his employer offered him a program that would pay for college tuition, he jumped at it. His determination was the key that caused him to focus on scholastics. He worked hard during the day and went to school at night, quickly completing all hours of his major in record time, but the pressure didn’t end.

Within two short years another child came along and now he had four mouths to feed. Despite the added pressure, he continued working hard and going to school, attempting to better himself and that of his family. He knew it was the right thing to do and was determined to not let up. He had worried about completing all the hours of his major first, but when a counselor at the University told him “that’s what I would do,” he used that as a positive sign that he was doing the right thing and took every hour of accounting and business he could force himself to take. He was always reminded that he wanted more for his kids, something every parent wants and although he had never received straight A’s in high school, he easily got them in college. For the first time, he seemed able to focus and that gave him great hope and confidence for the future. Unfortunately, he still had the nagging problem of being a worry wart. He knew he had this terrible tendency of worrying too much and although his good friend Joe had once told him, “95% of what you worry about will never happen, Tim,” he just couldn’t help himself.

Another of his friends had suggested that both Tim’s parents were worriers and so it naturally followed, he too would suffer from that same affliction. Tim did wonder if either of his parents, like him, had a touch of unwanted psychic ability; maybe his mother conjured up that bald-beller? That surely made sense. He knew his mother was always wringing her hands at the slightest problem, while his father’s first response was usually anger. Both of these perhaps are the trait of a person with low self-esteem and although Tim recognized that to be the case, it still didn’t solve his problem. He surmised that he had been “trained” to bear the brunt of negativity for years, most likely caused by his fear of and sensitivity to the spirit world. He wasn’t sure what part his parents might have played in his development, but he knew it was logical for him to have their traits. His worrisome ways had caused him to always be concerned about losing his job it and he wondered if he might inadvertently cause himself to lose it. “Well,” he thought, “If mom could conjure up an ugly creature, maybe he inadvertently could conjure up a lay off at his company.” This time he was faced with a perfect example; something he had worried about actually happened and now he was even more worried that he may have caused it. He lost his job and now was scared half to death for his family and for himself. While some might have taken their time in finding a new job, drawing unemployment as long as possible, Tim’s fear got the best of him; he was afraid he might never find another job, so he began searching the very next day, right after the lay-off.

Tim’s best friend, Joe Handy, a friend of Tim’s since childhood, was Tim’s exact opposite. He didn’t worry a whit about anything and despite having never completed high school himself; he could have cared less about losing a job. When Tim suggested to Joe he might lose his job if he took too much time off, Joe’s response was, “so what? I’ll just find me another one, Timmy. You worry too dath much, son.” It just so happened, Joe’s sir-name fit him as well. He was indeed a “handy” fellow, with the ability to figure out most any mechanical problem. His old car occasionally broke down, but never for long. He seemed to always know what to do to get it running again. Although he was a bit clumsy, he was also a pretty good carpenter, even making his own kitchen cabinets. He had no training to speak of, but amazingly could watch someone do a job one time and from then on, be able to do it. He was pretty darned handy!

Joe was not married, so couldn’t empathize fully with Tim. Unlike Tim, he also had a swagger about him, although it was difficult to know where it had come from. His father had to contend with a mental issue and out of pure necessity, his mother became the family bread-winner. There was no such thing as disability insurance for a railroad man in those days, so Joe’s father sat home, often just reading the bible. In some ways Joe became “the man of the house” and that may well have given him the confidence he needed in life, making a positive out of a negative. He certainly was good at that. With his mother working full-time and his father sometimes really “out of it,” Joe was mostly on his own and as a result, it was inevitable he would get into trouble and he did, several times during his teen years. Once when he wanted to get some friends out of high school so they could just hang out, he called the school and reported that he had planted a bomb somewhere inside the building. The story went viral of course and was all over local news channels. It just so happened Joe’s TV was busted, so he came over to Tim’s to “watch the news,” which Tim thought was pretty strange. It didn’t take Tim long to figure out that Joe was the culprit. He just watched Joe’s face as he watched the news and it was obvious he was scared half out of his mind. He confided in Tim that night and made him swear he would never tell anyone. Finally, a few days later one of the kids he was trying to get out of school, “ratted on him” and as a result, Joe spent a full month in juvenile detention. That was something that would have probably killed Tim, but not Joe. No one was surprised when he came out sounding like a gangster, bragging about all the things that had happened while he was, “incarcerated.” Joe learned this “new word,” which he seemed to revel in. It was one he had never heard before he was given first-hand knowledge and he talked about his “time incarcerated” as if he had just escaped death row. Tim knew that was all a ruse and he was pretty sure Joe had cried himself to sleep most every night of his detention, but he also knew Joe would never admit to it.

Tim and Joe had known each other from early childhood and one always seemed to know what the other was thinking or feeling. You might say Joe was the Yin to Tim’s Yang. They needed each other much more than either realized. When Tim had a problem, Joe seemed to always be able to calm him down quickly and when Joe had a “I don’t give a damn” attitude, Tim knew that he really did care and somehow helped him come to grips with it. They knew each other so well and trusted each other so much they felt comfortable sharing everything in life. When Tim told Joe about his seemingly strange ability, Joe immediately suggested that he and Tim explore it, look into it and see what was cooking with it. He even said he was willing to help Tim become a “ghost hunter,” but Tim’s fear of the spiritual world and that ‘ol “Bald-Bellar,” kept him from doing so. Tim had never had more than one apparent paranormal event in his life, but now his job loss may have suddenly brought him into the world he most feared. Who is the first person he decided to talk with about it? Well, Joe of course and Joe was more than eager to recount Tim’s extremely odd experience with whomever else was willing to listen. He asked Tim’s permission to call the local media and try to find someone who would either print the story, or recount it on TV or Radio. Tim agreed, although reluctantly. His only condition was Joe couldn’t use his real name.

Halloween was not far off and Joe knew he had the perfect story for the event. Maybe someone on one of the local TV stations would like to hear the story, or maybe it could come out in the newspaper? Tim had okayed it and all he had to do was be careful not to mention Tim's name. He could do that. He made calls to several stations, as well as the local newspaper, but all he was able to do was leave a voice- message. Everyone seemed to be too busy to hear the story. When Joe told him, Tim was actually relieved no one had called back; but Joe had not given up. Early one morning a few days before Halloween, he got a call from one of the local public radio stations. A "Mr. Wright" said they were looking for “scary” stories for their Halloween special.’ In fact, they planned to pick several stories to run on Halloween eve and he told Joe his story sounded interesting. However, Mr. Wright had an unusual request; would he tell the story over the phone and allow the station to record it? Depending on whether or not they decided to use it, they then would choose appropriate music to run behind it and of course, if Joe did a good job telling the story, they’d just use his recording to run on the radio. He was a bit nervous about that, but agreed to give it a try; clearing his throat, he began to tell the story.

Alright,” he said, “let me tell you, you are not gonna believe what happened to my best friend the other day. I can’t tell you my friend’s name, because I promised him I wouldn’t, but he lives right here in this very City, right this very minute.” Joe was trying to be dramatic. “Maybe he lives next door to you. Anyway, this is a true story and I can hardly believe it myself, but I know it’s true. It started this way. My friend, we’ll call him, Ralph, called me and wanted me to meet him for a beer. Now, if you’ve ever had a best friend in trouble, then you’ll know what I mean – my buddy was in a panic when he called, scared half to death. Now this is not the only time he has panicked, but just listen to this. He said he had lost his job and had hardly slept a wink since. People can be weird about the funniest things, but he is a tried and true friend and I’d do anything for him, God knows I would. He told me something unbelievable happened to him and he couldn’t wait to tell me all the details.” He said, ‘I think I’m going crazy Joe. It’s got me so danged upset, I’m even afraid to go looking for another job.’ I could tell by his voice he needed help and as I said, we’ve always been there for each other, so naturally I agreed to meet him. Anyway, he had me really curious and I wanted to know what the hedo was going on. I agreed to meet with him and help him hash it out. By the say, excuse my excitement. I’ll try to keep a little calmer from here on. I really can’t help it when I get to tellin’ a story.”

So, anyway – I know how nervous that boy can get. He just didn’t want to talk by phone, like someone or something might be listening, you know, so we decided to meet at a favorite place, ‘Uncle Louie’s,’ where the beer’s cold and even better, it’s cheap.” I love that place! Forgive me, I know you don’t like to run commercials, but it is an awfully good place here in our neighborhood. Anyway, I’ve never known Tim to lie and the poor guy doesn’t even kid very much. I mean, I couldn’t imagine what had him so upset and I worried about him most of the day. I was really anxious to find out about this ‘big mystery,’ so I showed up at Louie’s a little early to beat the crowd. I got us a fairly private booth and had drank about half my beer when I caught a glimpse of him when he came in. He saw me and headed my way and as he approached, I motioned to the waitress to bring him a cold one. He was carrying this kinda big brown sack and as he sat down, he leaned in toward me and immediately began whispering, excitedly. I tell you, the boy’s face was white as a sheet.” He said, ‘You know I’ve been lookin’ for a job since last week, dude. It’s only been a few days, I know, but it seems like forever, man. Anyway, the day after I lost my job, I stopped at Fred’s diner, you know, the one over there on South Third?’ “He swallowed hard and continued. He said his wallet was not as flush as mine and said he really needed to get back to a job of some kind. He continued, saying, ‘It was just the day after I lost my job, but see, I figured I wouldn’t waste time, so I started looking for another job right away. I started knocking on doors at 8:00am that morning and I was tired and hungry, so I spent the last two bucks in my pocket on a grilled cheese and a coke. I know the owner and he gave me a cup of soup for free. Anyway,” he said, as he continued, “Dude, I don’t know why, but I just kept thinking,’ “I’m gonna get a job offer today,” then he said, “Just as I took my first bite, I overheard a conversation at the booth right next to mine. A well-dressed older guy said these very words ‘we need to hire another man, right now.’ “Well, I could feel my palms start to sweat and I just wanted to shout, ‘Hey there - I’m your man’! He paused, then said, “Joe, you know I would dig ditches right now, man.” I nodded, and he just kept talking. “Anyway, I figured, what have I got to lose and I took a deep breath, stood up, turned around and said, “I need a job!” Tim said everyone within earshot quit talking and the two men at the table began laughing. Finally the older man said, “Hello son, my name’s Lenny and this is my son, George.” Tim said he was so embarrassed, he apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I’ve been knockin’ on doors all morning. My name’s Ralph Weedles; I lost my job last week and I’m looking for a new one.” He said the old man just smiled and said, “That’s okay young man, we’re gonna fill our position soon now - maybe you’re our man? We’re looking for an accountant son, can you do that job?” ‘He said, “Yes sir, I sure can; then he said he stuttered, “I’m, I’m, still in University, I’m an accounting major and I’m making straight A-s!” Then he paused again and said, “Joe, I tell you, I was so proud I could say that. What irony; how lucky could a guy be? And Joe, these guys were dressed to kill, but oddly, more like characters in a ‘thirties’ movie, wide lapels and all, man. Dude, I needed that job so bad, I could care less what they were wearing. I was pretty sure they liked me.”

Anyway, Lenny, the older guy, gave Ralph his business card and said, “Now, call me next week.” Ralph said the phone number on his business card was strange. It had letters in front of the numbers, but he said, “Man, I dialed it and to my relief, it worked. Mr. Lenny was just as nice on the phone as he had been in person and he wanted me to come in to talk with him right away. I don’t know why I found myself calling the old guy, ‘Mister Lenny’ but I found out later, that it’s somewhat of a southern tradition, showing respect for both age and position. You just don’t hear people talking like that anymore, but something seemed to compel me to call him by that name. Joe, look here! Here’s his card. See, it says ‘President,’ ‘Hopewell & Chance.’ “‘Mr. Lenny said H&C was a brokerage house in Lyndon and he told me just enough to whet my appetite. We set the appointment for the next day and all I could think was, I’m gonna be an accountant for a stock broker.” He said, “‘I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”

Then he said, “I didn’t tell Karen about it; I think I just wanted to surprise her.”’ Ralph was really excited now and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was gonna tell me he saw that darn “Bald-Bellar” again last night. Oh, you don’t know about that thing, do you? I’ll tell you later. Anyway, I thought, if he is pulling my leg, I’m gonna blow my @#&! top. Oh, sorry for that! It’s darn hard not to use a little saucy language now and then, you know, especially when I get excited. I hope you can clean that up. Now, about that Bald-Bellar. it’s just an imaginary creature, a real ugly mean thing Tim, er, I mean, Ralph claims he has seen at least once in his life. It only appears when a little kid is bad and it came to visit him one time when he sassed his mother. See, Ralph has the ability to see things others can’t. He said an old Indian woman told him about the Bald-Bellar and now that he had actually seen one, he knew she was telling the truth. He sure sounded convinced, but I don’t know. By the way, you’ll need to take the name “Tim” out of my story. Maybe you can just beep it, or something?

Anyway, back to the story. Now I personally don’t remember the building, but Ralph said it looked pretty old and was on North 7th street in downtown Lyndon. They just tore it down, so if you don’t remember it, you can 't see it. Anyway, he said it was easy to find and as he entered the foyer, a bell rang, supposedly announcing his presence. He looked around the lobby and said he noticed an old spittoon that showed signs of recent use and he remembered thinking “ugh; not very appealing.” He said he waited quite a while before looking up the stairway and there, silently and somewhat eerily, stood a smiling Mr. Lenny. Tim said he scrambled up to shake the old man’s hand and get his first view of the office. He said it was arranged oddly, like an old style office, “bull-pen,” with every desk except one occupied, supposedly his, that is, if he they hired him, and everyone was very busy. He said the people looked odd and not a single person looked up. Was that an Abacus? Yep! Tim said he knew what it was, but it startled him to see someone actually using one. Then he noticed a crank phone hanging in the center of the bullpen and thought, “How curious; surely it’s just a conversation piece.” There was also an old black box ticker tape clicking away and he said he couldn’t help but notice that everyone had an old fashioned manual Remington typewriter on their desk. At that point he decided he was about ready to leave; but he did not want to be rude.

He said it scared him when he saw the headlines of a newspaper lying on a desk. It said in very large print, “CRASH!” He said the font was strange, but to top it all off, as he looked around the bullpen, all he saw were dingy green walls, with no art or pictures of any kind, except for a few calendars hanging over several of the desks; they looked old and faded, just like the newspaper. He said he could have sworn he actually saw the year “1929” at the top of one, but then, he wasn’t sure. He said all the employees were men and they all were wearing what he described as “out of date” clothing. Every man was wearing a visor on his head and they all just sat silently, almost ghostly. He said he felt himself beginning to sweat. It felt as if he had stepped back in time. The dingy walls made the place look haunted and he said, “I had to tell myself, relax, you need this job.”

He said the interview was lengthy and Mr. Lenny asked some pretty strange questions. ‘Had Ralph’s father lost anything in the 29 crash? Had any of his relatives committed suicide during the turmoil? Had any of his father’s friends or relatives ever committed suicide?’ “Ralph said, “I told Mr. Lenny, none of my relatives ever had any money, but Mr. Lenny kept on talking about the ‘horrors of 1929.’ He didn’t ask one single question about accounting or give Ralph a job description. Tim said, er, I mean Ralph said he was puzzled and feeling pretty uncomfortable and when it finally came his turn to ask questions, the first thing he asked was for a job description. He said Mr. Lenny just laughed and said, “Oh, I’m sure you’re qualified son, now let me introduce you to our treasurer – she’ll tell you more about the job.” Then Mr. Lenny led him through the office and showed him the desk that would be his, the same one that he noticed was empty. Once again, not a single person looked up. Mr. Lenny introduced him to “Miss Molly,” and as he reached out to shake her hand, a small, “sweet-faced lady with a quirky, but gentle smile” was staring up at him. She was probably in her seventies or even early eighties and her hand was icy cold. She just started talking and didn’t even bother to offer him a seat. Ralph said her questions were eerily similar to Mr. Lenny’s and he just stood there, facing a large open window answering questions the best he could. He said he had a clear view of the street below and something outside caught his eye. At first, he said, “I saw a horse and carriage, then, vintage automobiles and horse-drawn wagons began appearing all up and down the street. Then came the sounds, and a lot of them; horns honking, horses neighing and in general, a lot of commotion. Tim said there were no special events, nor was there a parade scheduled that day, at least nothing he knew of, but he noticed all the people on the sidewalk were dressed in old clothes, like in old photographs. He was shocked to see the streets were cobblestone and he said it caused him to momentarily lose concentration. He could hear Miss Molly, but her voice had become an almost distant drone; he knew she was telling him about the job, but still he continued to be drawn to the noisy scene below and when he finally came out of his stupor, he was thinking, “Pay attention Ti, er, I mean, Ralph – don’t blow this!”’ Try as he might, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to “be finished with this interview and get the heck out of there.” He said, ‘I just hung in there, answering Miss Molly’s questions and she finally lifted her eyes and nodded to Mr. Lenny, who had stayed the entire time, as if to say, “hire him.” Ralph told me he never once received a job description and before he knew it, Mr. Lenny was leading him to the stairway, shaking his hand, saying, “You’re a good find, my boy. Thanks for coming in – I’ll ring you back soon, don’t you worry!” By now Ralph said he was sweating so profusely he could actually feel the sweat running down his nose. He was afraid his nerves were showing, but Mr. Lenny didn’t seem to notice. He just smiled and said, “Please be careful out on that street, son!” Ralph said the old man gave him the strangest look and said, “You know, it’s very dangerous out there,” and he said he felt a weird sensation come over him and was greatly relieved to be leaving the building. He rushed down the long stairway, skipping steps all the way, and then practically flew across the foyer and out the big front door, bursting onto the sidewalk. He said the feeling of stepping back in time was still fresh and he was expecting to see wagons and old cars, but the street was normal, nothing unusual and especially no horses, no cobblestone and no old cars. Everyone was dressed in fashion of the day, everything was modern, just as it should be; nothing at all looked old and there was no parade, nothing out of the ordinary in sight.

The look on Ralph’s face told me the story was going to get even stranger. He said, “I was standing on the walk, contemplating it all and I heard a horrible scream from directly above me. When I looked up, I saw someone dressed a lot like Mr. Lenny, jumping from a 5th story window. He was careening right toward me, so I panicked and leaped from the sidewalk onto the street, only to hear the sound of screeching brakes.” A bus had barely missed him and now, he said, “I stood looking up into the angry eyes of a bus driver, with my hands firmly planted on the front of the bus, as if I was trying to stop it.” “Breath Ralph,” he said he told himself, and as he regained his composure, it became apparent that no one had jumped. He said, “‘I was thinking, I surely didn’t just imagine all this,” but when he turned toward the building, he saw a very prominent sign in the front window that read, “Urban Renewal Project.” The building, the one Ralph had just come out of, was empty and ready to be demolished. He said he stood quietly, tears filling his eyes, nerves in shambles and for the longest time, he said, “‘I just stared at the sign in the window.” A cold chill ran up my spine as I listened to his story and I was sure he expected me to say, “You’re crazy,” but I didn’t. I know him well enough to know when he’s kidding me and if he was, it was one great acting job. At least it wasn’t another bald-beller story. I tell you what, if I find out he was lying to me, the boy’s gonna pay, big time. I’ll kick his behind clear to Sunday.

Anyway, his eyes began to fill with tears as he continued telling me this story. He confided this was the main reason he was having a hard time looking for a job. He said he went home that same day a
and didn’t want to tell anyone about it, not even his wife. It was obvious he hadn’t slept a bit, his eyes looked weak and red and he was trembling. He said he decided to spend an afternoon at the library yesterday, trying to find out more about “Hopewell & Chance” and was surprised that he was able to find an old 1929 newspaper and an article H&C. The head-line was a story about a very successful stockbroker, one “Mr. Lenny Thompson.” The news article said that Mr. Thompson had began clerking for “H & C” at the tender age of seventeen and had worked his way to the top. In 1929, Mr. Thompson was one of the wealthiest men in Lyndon, but he lost most everything as a result of the stock market crash. In deep depression, Mr. Lenny had “leaped from an empty 5th story window of his office building,” and unfortunately, he had landed on an innocent passerby. Now, listen to this; old Ralph began almost sobbing and said, “Joe, that unlucky guy was my paternal grandfather, Jesse.”

Ralph told me his grandfather had died in some strange way, but no one had ever shared the details with him. Now that he knew, how in the name of glory could he explain all that had happened to him? “I get cold chills just thinking about it,”’ he said. “‘You’re the first person I’ve told.”’ The most astonishing part, Ralph found out that his grandfather had interviewed that same morning for an accounting job at H&C, just as he had done! He said, “I’m a terrible wreck every time I think about it.” All I could say in response was, “I’m here for you, my friend.” I just wanted to try to give him a little support and comfort; I certainly didn’t think it was the time to talk about his strange powers, although I knew at some point I had to try and help him get over his unrelenting fear. See, I’ve known old Ralph had some kind of strange powers for a long time, but I can’t get him to accept and develop it. He has a gift, but the gift scares the bewillikers out of him.

Anyway, he said he found a recent article about the old building at the library; it had been vacant for at least ten years and scheduled for demolition. He said he wanted to get inside just one more time and tried to force the door, but he couldn’t open it. Nevertheless, he said, “the old building was torn down just yesterday” and he said, he made it a point to spend the day watching them demolish it. Then he said, after everyone had left for the day, he stepped under the yellow tape to look around and there, near the sidewalk, he spotted an Abacus. Was it the one he had seen during his interview? Yes, more than likely. He asked me, “Do you think my grandfather was trying to tell me something, Joe?” He had a bewildered look on his face, then he reached for tha paper bag he had with him and he pulled out a beat up old Abacus. He laid it on the table between us and with his other hand he laid Mr. Lenny’s business card right on top of it. He paused and looked up as if to say, “Here’s the proof brother – what do think about all this?”’

Once again, there was silence. I knew he was asking me what to make of it all and I had absolutely no answers. One thing for certain, I knew when he lost his job he would be desperate for a while. He’s just so dath nervous. I guess he could have imagined everything; he’s made for that, but then, what about that Abacus? And where did he get that old business card? They were his proorn, they were his documentation. He told me he had held everything in as long as he could and he said, “now, Karen is gonna think I’m crazy, but I have to tell her.” “Should I tell her, man” he asked? Why would he ask me, I really don’t know, but I quickly replied, no, no, no. Wait awhile on that. I wanted him to think about it a little more and give me some time to think about it too and I gave him all the money in my wallet just to help him out; he made me stand so he could hug me. Hey, I’m not a big shot, but when my good buddy’s in trouble, you better darn well believe I’m gonna help him.

Uh, uh, Ti, uh, Ralph, told me I was the only one he trusted with this story, because he knew I wouldn’t ridicule him, that I’d support him and even help him. I was pretty proud of that. He even apologized to me. “It had to be you brother; am I crazy, man, or what?” I finally had the opening I had been waiting for and cautiously began talking about his quirky strange powers, his ability to see things that others don’t. He listened as I told him he should now think more seriously about developing those powers and that it was time to get over his “stupid” fear of them. What else could I say? He didn’t say a word when we stood we hugged again, and I wanted him to know I believed every word he said, so I simply said, “I believe you, man.” Believe me, it all was more than a little convincing and I have to tell you, I really believe it all happened, but I have exactly the same question as he does. Why? I just wish I knew.

So, Mr. Wright, now that you’ve heard it; how do you feel about using this story on your radio show? I mean, can you use it? I can’t answer all the questions you probably have, like, was Mr. Lenny a specter, re-living his past? Did he choose Ralph because of his grandfather? It might seem plausible, but I still can’t tell you the real reason. Maybe Mr. Lenny was looking for an accountant who could make it all go away? Or one who could help him hunt his lost fortune? Maybe he’ll spend eternity looking for that special accountant, if that’s even a possibility and maybe Mr. Lenny and Ralph are inextricably linked in some odd, perhaps even spiritual way. Hey, maybe this is Mr. Lenny’s special tale and somehow, because of his grandfather, Tim, er, Ralph, got pulled into it. Who knows?

Anyway, I can tell you this. Ralph was greatly relieved to tell me his story and to know I believed him. My believing seemed to give him the peace of mind he deserved. Think about it. Suppose it was you in this story, would you do more than just go to the library? If you had Ralph’s crazy power, would you use it to find out more? I sure would. But for old Ralph, it seemed all he could hope for was that he’d soon find a job.” Oddly, it gives me peace to think I may have helped a good friend by just listening. By the way, I really appreciate you listening. Anyway, Ralph is a smart guy with a lot on the ball, but he has this little quirk, you know. I suggested he talk with his pastor, or maybe a good psychiatrist. I even told him he might want to talk to a “mystic,” or a “seer.” I also told him I’d go with him.” I know I may have said Tim a couple of times, but his name is Ralph. I was just talking with my cousin, Tim, earlier and I had him on my mind. You can take that out, can’t you?

Mr. Wright, there sure are a lot of desperate people these days. The country is split right down the middle and a lot of people are finding it hard to find a job. Who knows? Mr. Lenny may only come around when times are like this, but I tell you what, if you are interviewing for a job, I’d say you’d better get a close look at a calendar, especially if the place looks anything like the office old Ralph described. And, if the calendar doesn’t have the current year on it, or if the place looks weird, get the hedo out and do it pretty fast. You know, maybe the main lesson would be – and nothing against the profession - but wouldn’t it make you want to forget about being an accountant? If you think about it, an accountant has somewhat the same demeanor as a mortician. And darn if they don’t practically dress the same. The mortician might even be a little more trustworthy. What’s the old joke? “A good accountant can tell you exactly what your bottom line is and a great accountant will ask you, “what do you want it to be?”

Thankfully, Ralph has completely lost interest in accounting, which is of course understandable. He said he is thinking about becoming a plumber; and listen to this. Yeah, you might want to include this on your radio show – talk about crazy; he told me he dialed Mr. Lenny’s old phone number again, just for the heck of it and to his surprise, “Lenny’s Plumbing” answered. Then he said, “That’s how I became interested in plumbing.”

All I could say to him was, “Surely you are kidding me, aren’t you Ralphy? Ralphy, Ralphy, Ralphy. If you really want to be a plumber, whatever you do, you sure as heck shouldn’t try to get a job at ‘Lenny’s!’ And don’t you think it’s time for me to see this Bald-Bellar you talk about so much?” Come to think of it, the description sounds a little like those aliens that are supposedly abducting people all over the world. “Why not try to find out what is happening in your life? If you ask me, I think it’s time for you to finally get serious!” Well, anyway, I would like to say those exact words to him, but I’m afraid it would make him go bonkers. That’s my friend old Ralph; he is just one big bundle of nerves. Oh, I need to say again, that ain’t his real name. I mean, I changed it just like he asked. I don’t know why I kept saying, Tim, my cousin, but that ain’t his name either. Okay?

So anyway, what do you think? Are you gonna use this story? You are? Oh boy, wait ‘til I tell Tim; uh, I mean Ralph. Hey, that’s great, man. Do you want me to tell you more about the Bald-Bellar? I could get Ralph to call you. Well, okay, I suppose you do have enough, but, don’t leave out the part I told you, you know, about that Bald-Bellar, okay? Yeah, I know; sorry about that. It just comes out naturally and sometimea I get pretty loud. Clean it up any way you can. Thank you, sir and I’ll be listening to your show. I'm sure anxious to hear how I sound on the radio. Bye now!

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