This is the third and fourth chapter of a book draft. I am posting two chapters this time because they are short. I am writing it with the hope it appeals to a youthful audience, both chronologically and spiritually speaking. I will continue to share at least on chapter weekly. If you have read the previous chapters, thank you. If not, please go there first.
“We can be in Coffeyville by late afternoon, it looks like. I think that might be a good place to stop over for the night,” Ben suggested.
“Sounds alright by me. Might be some work we can find there too. I hear there are lots of brick plants operating there among other things. It‘s be biggest town we will see for a while. Let’s give it a look. It’s probably a safe place to be in with a kid that isn’t ours. What do you think?” Martha responded.
The old Dodge truck was not much to look at, but under the hood it was in great condition. The motor seemed to just purr as they rolled down the dusty gravel road. After about an hour of travel, a very strange thing happened. Martha noticed it first. It started out to be an unusual warm sensation in both her hands, then it traveled gradually up her arms from there and seemed to take over all her being. It was not an uncomfortable, sweat inducing warmth, but rather an overwhelming sense of well-being and bliss. And it just seemed to linger for a very long time, but in reality, it wasn’t. It was the sort of thing that made time seem to just stop. Martha felt both exhilarated and a bit frightened, because she could not understand what the reason for these feelings could be.
About midway through Martha’s euphoric session, the same sensations started sweeping over Ben. He actually considered stopping the truck because the feelings were growing so intense he was not sure he would be able to continue driving safely. Ben had never felt anything remotely like this before so for all he knew he might be on the verge of passing out. But it felt so good he wanted it to never end!
In the midst of all this bliss filling up the truck cab, Martha happened to look down at the boy and noticed he was calmly sitting with his palms upward on his lap, his eyes closed, and a big smile on his face. Was he causing this feeling she and Ben were sharing? Just then, the boy looked up at Martha out of the corner of his right eye and began to smile even more! Yes, somehow, he was the cause of these feelings and she now knew it, and he knew she knew it. This was starting to get very weird.
“Martha, I am feeling really strange, but it’s wonderful!” Ben gushed.
“He’s doing it!” Martha volunteered.
“What? What do you mean?” Ben muttered.
“It’s him! Somehow, he is doing something that is making us feel this way. Think about it. Have you ever felt anything like it before? Ever? How do you describe it?” Martha continued.
“You got me there, I have to admit. But how in the world could it be him? Did he touch you? He didn’t touch me…did he?” Ben puzzled.
“No, there was no physical touching. He touched my arm earlier, but he stopped that long before these feelings happened. But he just looked at me like he was trying to tell me that he was causing it and he knew I was feeling something. It was him!” Martha insisted.
“Well, I’ll just take your word for it, because I certainly don’t have any other explanation. But I don’t know what it means or anything like that.”
“Do you have a name?” Martha asked as she gazed down on the lad.
After what seemed like a fairly long pause, the boy just shook his head to say “No”.
“You must be called something!” Ben interjected.
The boy looked up and Ben and shook his head again.
“Well, we are going to have to come up with something to call you, I guess. We can’t just keep calling you boy, or kid, or little fella or stuff like that. If you are going to travel with us for any time and we start being around people who think you are our kid somebody is going to ask you or us what to call you and we better have something,” Ben proffered.
Martha spoke up with, “Can you talk very much? Can you tell us why you were back there in Baxter Springs and how you got there?”
“’’Scuse me?” Ben asked.
“Train?” Martha asked again?
“Train,” the boy repeated.
“Uh, oh,” Ben said with a bit of alarm in his voice. “Orphan train! You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, Martha? You know about the Orphan trains that come out of New York and Boston? They supposedly come into the Midwest farm country and just dump all these orphan kids out in the vicinity of the small farming communities and leave them. It should be against the law to do something like that but there are so many of them that nobody seems to know what to do about it!”
“That’s just a tragedy! It’s so inhuman! What are these kids supposed to do? How do they keep from starving?” Martha whined.
“From what I heard, they just decided to get these tens of thousands of kids out of the big cities and trust that God-fearin’ farm families out here in the middle of the country would have a big enough heart to take a couple of them into their homes and look after them. That’s assuming they haven’t already lost their farms to the banks!” Ben continued.
“So, you think that is what he means?” Martha asked.
“Yep, wouldn’t surprise me at all. Maybe he can tell us more later when he gets to know us better and isn’t so quiet, if that day ever comes while we have him.
Just then, they could see signs of a town up ahead. And then Ben noticed a sign that said ‘Chetopa — 2 miles’. That would mean according to the map Ben checked just before they left Baxter Springs that they were about halfway between Baxter and Coffeyville. So Ben calculated in his head that they had another hour and a half to go to where he planned to stop for the night.
“Sign says Chetopa is just ahead, so we are halfway to Coffeyville from where we started after lunch. It’s gonna be another hour and a half or better after from here. Anybody need to stop? Hope you don’t need anything that costs money because until we get a bit of work I’m runnin’ pretty low,” Ben said.
“I really need to pee, so let’s find a place we can do that where we don’t have to buy anything,” Martha said.
“That’s good because we need to hold out ’til we get to Coffeyville and that’s where I’m hopin’ we can find a day or two of work.”
The old Dodge rolled into Chetopa and they decided they would use the City Hall restroom because it’s public and there would be no obligation to buy anything. It turned out that Chetopa’s City Hall was in the town square, and it was a nice shady place to just relax and rest for a little while. While Martha was inside the offices taking care of her personal needs, Ben and the boy took their position on a bench under a big oak tree on the square park lawn. The area was a lively spot with cars constantly circling the square looking for a parking space and people walking up and down the sidewalks in front of the stores around perimeter. All in all, a very pleasant place to just sit and relax.
The boy decided to jump off the bench and move around a little. Ben decided not to say anything to him because the thought actually crossed his mind that the kid might just wander off and disappear and then he and Martha would not have to deal with him anymore. He realized it to be a selfish and somewhat cruel thought, but then again, they had no idea what the boy’s origin was. That feeling in the truck might be fun but there was no guarantee that would ever happen again. And at least the kid didn’t have to ride that train again to get from Baxter to Chetopa, so that was worth something, right? He was trying to convince himself that his thinking wasn’t all that unreasonable or mean. And then, as if the boy was listening to his thoughts, here came that blissful, euphoric feeling all over again!
Ben jumped up and scanned the area because the boy was not in sight just then and he had to see if he was the cause of this feeling. As he spun around to look behind himself, there the boy was, with his arms from the elbow out parallel with the ground, palm turned up, eyes closed, smile spread across his face. After a minute, the boy gradually opened his eyes and looked straight into Ben’s, continuing to smile.
“So it is you, isn’t it little guy? How do you do that? What’s going on here?”
Ben was chuckling just as Martha walked up to them.
“What’s so funny, Ben?”
“He did it to me again. Just now! That same great feeling!”
“Darn, I missed it! I wonder if I can get him to do it by just asking?”
But before Martha could speak up, the boy ran toward the corner of the square where there was a small group of people standing and visiting about something. Ben guessed there maybe eight or nine of them. The boy stopped about 10 feet away and put his arms out parallel and stood perfectly still. Suddenly, one by one, every person in the group began to mumble, smile, sigh at each other and express visible signs of being euphorically happy. Not one of them even noticed the boy at first. They were just looking at each other as if it was the first time they had ever laid eyes on each other. This went on for about three or four minutes before one man in the group happened to see the boy and came to the idea that he might be the source of his wonderful sensations. He pointed at the boy for others in the group and they all acknowledged that he must be the cause. Slowly, they began to make a loose circle around him, just to get closer and keep the sensations going as much as they could.
At first, this startled Ben and Martha because they had no idea what might happen. So they moved quickly to where the action was.
“You can see what’s going on here, can’t you, Martha?”
“Yes, I certainly can! What should we do?”
“Nothing yet. I don’t know what to do! Let’s just stand close by and watch.”
“Hey, folks! Is this your little boy?” one of the men called out to Ben and Martha.
“A..well…yeah,” Ben stammered. “Is he bothering you? I’m sorry if he is!”
“I wouldn’t call what I’m feelin’ a bother, that’s for sure! That’s quite a gift this little fella has! What’s that about? How does he do it?’ the man continued as everyone else was chiming in at this point.
“It’s too hard to explain for me to try,” Ben replied with the friendliest smile he could muster, as he was thinking, oh, boy, what do I do now?
At that moment, one of the women in the group reached into her purse and pulled out a coin and handed it to the boy.
“Hear, you little darling! You’ve got something really special going on there and I hope you will share it with as many people as you can. The world could use a lot more of feeling like this!”
This prompted everyone else in the group to do the same thing and in just a few moments the little boy had his hands cupped together and they were overflowing with coins of every denomination. It was as if people didn’t even know what they were handing him or how much. Then they all dispersed in every direction to go about their business for the rest of their day without seeming to give another thought to what had just happened to them and what they had done.
The young lad then stepped up to Martha and handed her all the money he had just collected and turned to walk back to the truck. He opened the passenger side door on his own and climbed into the cab where he took his seat as if to say, “Let’s get out of here!”
Ben and Martha took the cue and hurried to the truck, climbed in, and Ben quickly powered it up and backed away from the curb, and off they went.
“Oh, my God!” Martha gasped. “What did we just see?”
“What did we just do, that’s the question!” Ben joined in with his eyes big as silver dollars. “Do you think those people are going to sort of wake up and wish they hadn’t done that? Times are too hard for people to be emptying out their pockets to strange little boys!”
“They are happy,” the boy spoke up.
Martha gave Ben a startled look and Ben met her eyes with the same expression.
“Why are they happy?” Martha quickly asked.
The boy just smiled at her and didn’t say another word.
Ben suddenly realized he was driving the truck way too fast without even realizing he was doing it. So he quickly slowed down to a reasonable speed for the conditions he was driving under. He hadn’t even checked over the truck that closely. The tires might not be great and they were driving on a loose gravel highway and that called for being more cautious.
Martha decided to count the handful of coins they now had from this remarkable incident. After a couple of minutes, she reported to Ben that they added up to over eight dollars!
“Wow! That will buy us all a very nice supper, pay for a room in Coffeyville for a couple of nights if we need it, and probably put a few gallons of gas in the truck. Just like that, we are in pretty good shape! This could get interesting if it keeps up!” Ben was getting excited now!
Chapter Four –
Not too far down the road from Chetopa, but a little over an hour from Coffeyville, the young boy leaned his head against Martha’s arm and fell asleep. The calm expression on his face as he slept brought a tear to Martha’s eye. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world and was in the safest place he could possibly be. He gave the impression he was sleeping so soundly that Ben and Martha felt they could speak freely about the events of the day and surmise what this boy might be all about. It was clear by now that he might not be a big talker. But then again, he had only been with them for a few hours so they couldn’t be absolutely sure about that, could they?
“Ya know, I’ve been thinking about the talent he has for making anyone around him feel so happy they almost can’t stand it. I bet there might be other things he can do, too,” Martha suggested.
“Like what?” Ben asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just have a feeling there’s more, but I could never guess what that more might be without seeing him in action. We are going to watch him closely, especially when we are in Coffeyville. He did that thing in Chetopa while you weren’t watching. It’s a good thing it went well because what would you have done if it had turned into some kind of problem?”
“I have no idea what I would have done but we don’t have to worry about that because it was just the opposite, wasn’t it? But you know what? I have a feeling that when he does something like that, we aren’t going to be able to stick around that place for too long. We don’t know how people are going to react or what they might start asking us, and we don’t know anything!” Ben fretted.
“Well all I can say for certain right now is that our lives certainly have become exciting in ways we never could have imagined when we left Moberly yesterday. I hope we can handle everything that happens, whatever that might be!” Martha chimed in.
Both Ben and Martha fell into deep thought at that point and stopped the talking for the time being and the truck just swallowed up the miles as they rolled toward their day’s destination.
Several minutes later, Ben had to speak up because he noticed something he had to share.
“Uh, Martha…I am wondering if the gas gauge on this truck is broken? I’ve just realized it hasn’t moved one lick since we left Baxter Springs! Now I’m worried. I have no idea how much gas is left in this thing or whether we will be able to roll into Coffeyville with no problem!”
“Do you remember what the gauge said when we left Baxter?” Martha asked.
“Yes, it was about half a tank because I remember looking and thinking we are probably going to need to buy more before we get to Coffeyville. And then I just forgot about it until just now. We should be down below a quarter tank by now I would guess but it still shows just over half. That’s just plain weird!”
“I guess we just have to keep driving and hope for the best, huh?” she asked.
“That’s all I can do. Would you just look at that? Now everything that happens makes me wonder if this boy has something to do with it. I can’t keep doing that, can I? That will make me crazy!” Ben said.
“It’s no surprise. So much seems to be happening that we can’t seem to explain,” Martha reassured him.
They passed by a sign that announced Coffeyville to be 10 more miles down the road. Ben allowed himself to relax a bit from his concerns about running out of gas in wide open country. As the miles clicked away, he felt safer. At least if they did run out of gas the prospect of getting assistance from someone passing by would get better by the mile. And sure enough, they rolled into the east side of Coffeyville without incident. Ben pulled up to a Phillips 66 gas station pump at the first opportunity. His curiosity was getting the best of him and he had to know if there was something wrong with the truck’s gas gauge or if there was some kind of magic going on with anything the boy came into contact with.
“I’m going to spend some of our good luck money here to top off the tank and see if something is wrong with this gas gauge,” Ben announced.
“I don’t blame you. We need to know,” Martha agreed.
Ben inserted the gas nozzle into the truck’s tank and opened it up. Sure enough, it only took $1.10, and that amounted to half a tank. He decided he didn’t want to think about this right now. It was all just too hard to understand. He paid the station attendant and climbed back behind the wheel. The boy was still fast asleep. Ben just sat and stared at him, while Martha stared at Ben. This was becoming somewhat perplexing, but she wanted to believe it was for the best. Time would tell.