1-10 Young Jim, Old Jim
The welcoming heat of early afternoon greeted Young Jim as he walked out of Westwind’s medical facility. It had not been an easy escape on several fronts. Doctor Colton had wanted Jim to stay a bit longer for observation and Jim angrily accused the doctor of wanting him around because he had no other patients and needed something to do to kill time. It had been a battle of wills, but in the end, Jim had shouted him down and walked out anyways. That was where the doctor had lost the second battle, insisting Jim be taken to his bungalow via wheelchair. Colton’s ears would be ringing for a day from the sharp reply he had gotten to that suggestion.
After ordering a meal to be delivered to him privately, Jim headed out towards the employee area of the resort. With so much from his brush with the Whoticores and their goddess to still process, he barely had the physical and mental strength to get there on his own. It briefly crossed his mind (but only briefly), that he should have taken Colton up on the offer of the wheelchair.
He put the key in the lock and turned it, never in all his life more grateful to be in a place he considered a second home and sanctuary. Tiredly he opened the door and stumbled in, surprised that as determined as he felt, he was still shaky and uncoordinated from the entire ordeal way back to when he first stepped foot in Mountainville.
Though it might have started even before that, he mused.
With no luggage to bring in, the former herbalist took a moment to look over the room and its simple furnishings – a bed, nightstand, dresser, desk and sofa – the standard trappings of all guest rooms. The only additions were the pictures of Serena, some including himself, gracing the walls and desk. Everything was where it was when he was last here, where it should be and nothing was out of place.
Nothing now except him.
As tired as he was, Jim made his way to the bathroom. He had not had a chance to look in the mirror to see what had horrified everyone else about his appearance. He was certain it was not as bad as…
“My Goddess!” he whispered, staring with the same fear and disbelief the ex-herbalist had seen in everyone else’s eyes. His hands automatically went to his face, lightly touching the new wrinkles, the lines and the grey hairs. It was an awful sight and one that convinced him at last that the past day had not been some terrible dream he would wake up from.
Then he caught sight of his hands. He brought them down to inspect them closer, not trusting their reflection in the mirror. The knuckles had slightly bulged outwards and his skin was covered with thinner skin now that sported more age spots than before. Tentatively he flexed several fingers. They twinged and faintly hurt with the beginnings of arthritis.
Oh no. No, no, no, no, NO!
Mercifully he heard the phone ring back in the bedroom. It allowed him to cast aside his rising, panicky thoughts as he went back to the desk and grabbed it. “Hello? Yes?”
“Jim? It’s Officer Callihan,” came a thickly accented voice on the other end. “Is that really you?”
“Of course it’s me, Callihan,” Jim said testily, little strength left to him to be angry at another person today. He moved the chair out and fell heavily into it. “What do you want?”
“Ye sure this innae a joke?” the policeman asked, still sounding skeptical. “I can hardly believe Sergeant Malloy would kid about such a thing as your – “
The ex-herbalist ran a hand over his face. “Malloy?” he repeated. “Who’s Malloy?”
“You remember Malloy. The Sergeant at Mountainville Police Department,” Callihan reminded him. “He booked you – “
“Oh, him,” Solare remembered. “Yes, we had the pleasure of meeting before the inquest,” he added. It didn’t sound as sarcastically effective without the fire of his temper behind it. His voice only betrayed how profoundly shell-shocked he still was from – everything. “What about him?”
“Well, he received a report of your, well, your death, Jim,” Callihan said hesitantly.
The former herbalist’s hand found itself back over his face, rubbing it hard. “Don’t tell me – those damn Whoticores, right?”
“Yes – ” the officer began.
Young Jim perked up. “Wait,” he interrupted. “You were supposed to go over there today. They told me you instructed them to hold me…I think…I can’t remember all that well, but I think…”
“I never received a call from them directly, no,” Callihan replied. His voice turned relieved. “Thank the maker it wasn’t true about ye death. I was callin’ t’ confirm Miss Serena was up there so I could come up and give her the sad news meself.”
“Wait, you wouldn’t tell her why you’re coming – “
“No, heaven’s Jim, no!” the officer said quickly. “I would never tell someone that over the phone! Ye know me better ‘n that, I would hope.”
“Yes,” Solare shook his head, sighing.
“You dunna sound too well, though, if I might say so,” Callihan said kindly. “Were you there? In Mountainville, then?”
Jim ground his teeth at the thought. “Yes I was there,” he confirmed, his voice tightening with tension. “And it sounds like Sergeant Malloy left out the little detail of their being the cause of me nearly dying in the first place!”
“I dinna hear that part, no,” the officer confirmed. “But why were you over there? Why in heaven’s name would ye go see them after you tried ta kill Loki Whoticore once already?”
Silence met his caller. He refused to volunteer any incriminating information. If Callihan didn’t already know, he certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to tell him now!
“Did Malloy give you any more information?” Jim asked. “Those Whoticores are liars and if they dreamed this up to scare my daughter – “
“No, Jim. He dinnae tell me anythin’ more,” Callihan told him. He knew better than to press the ex-herbalist for an answer to his question. He would never get it. “I’ll request a full report, but if they are hiding any details and you can tell me – “
“I want them arrested, Callihan,” Serena’s father snapped, anger giving him one last burst of energy.
“I’ll see what we can do, Jim, but you know their department – and their dealings with the Whoticores…”
“So you’ve said before. Loki had them all running scared for years. Well, the bastard’s dead now – “
Jim swallowed hard. That was probably not the best thing to reveal, he realized suddenly.
“How do you know that?” the officer asked, curiosity creeping into his tone. Curiosity and suspicion.
“Well…if he isn’t, he’ll be soon enough,” Solare fumbled. An instant later he realized he had just made it twice as worse, however. “They said he was sick, terminal and while I’m overjoyed at the thought, I had nothing to do with it.”
“I hope not,” Callihan warned. “I’ll get that report. In fact, I think I will go over there personally and talk t’ Sergeant Malloy an’ the Whoticores.” Jim tried to protest, but the officer cut him off. “You sound tired, Jim. You better get some rest. I’ll be in touch – oh an’ don’t leave Westwind fer now.”
Callihan hung up.
“Aw, drat it!” snapped Jim. He set the receiver down none too gently and trudged off to the bed, at once angry, exhausted and scared.
Hours later Young Jim awoke to the sound of trees overhanging the bungalow’s back porch as they gently scratched at the wood railing surrounding the deck. Evening this time of year was often accompanied by a gentle breeze blowing through the Cantoo Mountains as the fading sunlight brought the temperature of the air down more quickly than the temperature at ground level. The scratching, accompanied by the changing light dancing through the trees made him most grateful to be indoors this night. Not like last night where he had nearly frozen to death on the back of a horse, fleeing for his life.
He spent the first waking moments just laying in bed, enjoying the warmth under the covers, the familiarity of the bungalow’s surroundings, the smell of the cedar and redwood-lined walls. It was all so comforting and deeply quiet, Jim felt as if he could close his eyes and forget having been elsewhere the day before.
When he had had enough of lounging, he reached over to the nightstand and checked the time. He had been asleep for quite a few hours. Getting up, he swung his feet over the side of the bed, but before he could stand up, his stomach growled, demanding attention.
“Oh…lunch,” he sighed. “I forgot it was coming.”
After putting on slippers and a robe, Jim checked at the door, but knew if catering had tried to deliver the food he had ordered, they would not have left it unattended on the porch. Doing that was against resort policy as any number of creatures from the smallest ants to the largest warm-blooded predators would have gotten to it before him. He was to get a surprise when opening the door, expecting to find a note from the staff and instead found his daughter Serena standing there, holding the note, a basket of food and her own basket of medicinal supplies.
“Ah, you’re awake. My timing is good then,” she beamed.
“As is often the case, Sunbeam,” he agreed, standing aside to let her in. She breezed in past him, all smiles.
She dropped her work basket on the bed on her way to drop the food off at the desk. “I traded your lunch for dinner when I stopped by catering and they said you hadn’t answered,” she explained. She pulled out a plate and utensils while talking. Next came food and when it was uncovered, the smell of it made Jim realize just how hungry he was. He fairly dove for the desk chair, his daughter deftly stepping out of the way, crossing back over to the bed.
Letting him get a good portion of the meal down before speaking again, she busied herself with pulling several items out of her bag; a thermos, a cloth drawstring pouch, a screw-top glass jar and a clear flask of oil with leaves floating in it. When she noticed her father slowing down the pace of his eating, she went back over to him, setting the items she had pulled out onto the table around the mostly devoured meal.
“Hmm…” she hummed, taking his idle hand in hers, inspecting his fingers.
Ignoring her fussing, he concentrated on eating, though in between bites, asked, “Anything to drink?”
“Yes, the bean pod tea,” she said more to herself than in answer to his question. “Definitely to start.”
He made a face. “That doesn’t sound very appetizing. And my gout hasn’t kicked up in months. I’ve been very good about that,” Jim assured her.
“Then the skullcap,” she muttered.
“What? I am NOT drinking – “ he began to complain when she pulled some capsules out of one of the pouches and perched them on the side of the dinner tray. “Oh…that’s better,” he said, relieved it wasn’t in a tea form, but then. Wait, what do I need skullcap for?!?” he asked, confused.
“Or do you prefer the turmeric, oh I wish you wouldn’t,” she said rapidly. “You know that isn’t as effective.”
“How dare you suggest I have a fatty liver!” Jim protested, cut short when she quickly drew out the oil flask and a smaller dark blue glass container of cream and set them on the side of the desk. He shot her a look which she returned blankly for a moment. “Okay, what are you up to?” he finally asked.
“It isn’t obvious?”
“It might be if you tell me – oh never mind!” he shook his head and reached for the glass container, unscrewing the top. He sniffed at the red-tinted, creamy contents, then reared back, “Phew! Wait, that’s cayenne.”. He closed it back up and gingerly set it aside, then looked at the contents in the clear oil flask. “And that’s bay leaves in there.”
Jim tapped his fingers against the desk, thinking. She watched them for an instant. “Yes,” she declared confidently, nodding in their direction. “Exactly!”
“What?” the elder Solaran asked blankly, then cringed as he felt his new-found pain kick up in protest to his tapping. Then it hit him, “Bay, bean pod, turmeric…oh…the uh, arthritis,” he realized, Serena echoing the word at the same time.
“If you don’t want to do the tea, it’ll at least get you started, father,” she offered. “And there’s always the capsules, but I know you hate them and won’t stick to a routine, so the cream, the oil…we do have alternatives – “
“‘We,’” echoed Jim. “You mean me, don’t you?” he sighed. “It’s my stupid mistake, daughter. My burden to bear.”
“We all grow old, dad. You were going to face this eventually,” she shook her head. “I’m prepared.”
“But I wasn’t, Sunbeam,” Jim’s voice faltered. “And now I’m paying the price.” Ignoring the cluster of arthritis remedies, he stood, going to the door leading to the back porch. He stopped, staring out at the lush greenery surrounding the bungalow. “I keep failing to protect you. And each time the price has chipped away another piece of my own life. First my pride in keeping you safe, then my practice and now – this,” he raised his hand, the streaming sunlight outlining his slightly bulged, damaged fingers.
“I don’t need protecting as when I was a child,” Serena told him, going up to him and enfolding his fingers in her hands as if she could heal the damage with her touch. “I will always be your daughter,” she let go of his hand, her gaze as strange and piercing as the frightening, marble-white statue of Whocate in the gardens of House Whoticore. “But I have no wish to see you hurt yourself further with these attempts to shelter me, father.” She gathered the dinner dishes back into the catering department’s basket, then packed up her medicinal bag. “Take your time deciding which of the treatments to use. I can pick them up tomorrow morning, or you can drop them by the greenhouse as you are able. I will be there except for meals and my rounds, as usual.”
Jim watched her as she went to the front door, opening it to the grounds beyond. “You still have not told me what happened when you went to see Lord Loki. If I need to, father, I will discover the truth for myself.” She looked back one last time. “Sleep well.”
He stared for a while after she was gone, lost in fears and thoughts he’d rather avoid. Now, in the quiet of the bungalow, with the lack of companionship and distractions, they surfaced once more, refusing to be silenced.