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Fiction Seeking Truth

by Walt Trizna

Stewart Kingman was a very successful writer of horror stories.

After an exhausting day of writing, he popped a brew and said to his wife Talia, “Babe, you know my method for developing a story. I take some glimmer of truth and twist it into a tale of horror.

‘What if some of the unworldly situations I create could exist? People read my books to escape to a world that scares the hell out of them, and they enjoy that world because they can always close the book to escape the horror.

“What if some of the horror actually existed outside the book? That’s the reason Jaws was so popular: the book was frightening but possible. You could close the book and jump in the ocean and fiction could suddenly become reality and your ass is shark bait.

“Sure, Dracula had his roots in Vlad the Impaler, but old Vlad was just a weird dude, nothing supernatural. The public craves the unexplainable, needs it. I think I’m going to take a lesson from my old friend Houdini and look for the truth behind the fiction.”

Kingman was fascinated by the life of Harry Houdini, living a public life spent creating illusions and a private life seeking the truth behind the illusion, performing as an escape artist and at the same time a debunker of charlatans claiming to be able to communicate with the dead.

Houdini constantly tried to communicate with his dead mother and his efforts only resulted in exposing one fake after another. As he was dying, he told his wife he would beckon to her from the grave but as far as anyone knows, he never succeeded.

Stewart did not discuss his theory of the truth behind fiction any further with Talia, but she knew that he was doing research on the topic. He had a vast library of folklore he used to give him ideas for his stories. He was now spending a great deal of time rereading some of his favorite volumes.

He decided to post a message on his website asking, “Has anyone had an experience that they feel defies natural law?” This opened the floodgates.

“What a bunch of nonsense,” he said as he scrolled through his email.

The message he was searching for arrived late that spring.

Dear Mr. Kingman,

I read the question on your website about having a strange experience. My life has changed since I had a brush with the hereafter. I can’t explain it, but I seem to be able to control the future. I’m not a nut. I just thought I’d respond to your question.

Yours truly,

Frank Talbot

Kingman emailed Talbot requesting more detail. A few days later Talbot replied.

Dear Mr. Kingman,

It took me a long time to sit down and write this letter. On one hand, I can’t believe I’m corresponding with you, on the other hand, you’ll think I’m nuts.

I’m a lineman in Massachusetts and last winter we had the ice storm from hell. I was up on a pole, after working I don’t know how many hours, when I wasn’t careful and touched a live wire. My work crew told the rest of the details to me.

They lowered me from the pole and I wasn’t breathing. They took turns doing CPR and got me going again. The ambulance came, and on the way to the hospital I tried to leave this world again. The ambulance driver gave me a jolt with the defibrillator and I returned to the living once more.

Now comes the weird part that you might not believe but I swear it’s true.

I was off from work for a couple of weeks, and it’s during this time that strange things began to happen. I was sitting in the living room thinking about my kid brother who’s in the army stationed in Iraq and how great it would be to see him.

I blacked out for a minute or two after thinking about my brother. That’s when the TV suddenly came on. On the TV was a news special and the guy reading the news looked like living death, definitely a strange-looking dude.

Then this guy on the TV, looking like an extra from Dawn of the Living Dead says the 85th armor division is coming home — my brother’s outfit. The screen then went blank.

A month later, my brother came home.

Here’s the really creepy part; the TV wasn’t plugged in. So now you’re sure I’m nuts, but I swear it’s the truth. It’s happened a few times since. I think about something, black out as I’m sitting in front of the TV when Mr. Death Warmed Over comes on the air and makes an announcement, making my thoughts reality.

I don’t know where the broadcasts come from and I don’t know how the TV got unplugged. Maybe I had some sort of seizure and unplugged it before the broadcast began. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’ve included my telephone number if you want to call me.

Yours truly,

Frank Talbot

Kingman reread the email. It had a different feel than all the other he received. Here was an ordinary guy, not full of self-importance, who could not explain what was happening to him. He decided to give Talbot a call.

“Hello, Frank Talbot here.”

“Mr. Talbot, this is Stewart Kingman. I’m intrigued by your experience. I’d like to meet with you and talk about the phenomenon you describe.”

There was a pause, and then Talbot said, “I guess that would be okay, Mr. Kingman.” Talbot gave directions to his house and set up a date for Kingman to come see him. After he hung up, he wondered if Kingman would really believe him; then a smile crossed his lips.

On a pleasant May morning, Kingman set out for Frank Talbot’s house. He drove onto I-95 planning to take the interstate into Massachusetts. The traffic was unusually light, and as he approached the Massachusetts border, Kingman found that the only vehicle other than his was a tractor-trailer in front of him, hauling a sailboat shrink-wrapped in blue plastic.

Kingman had the cruise control set on his SUV and the tunes playing. He was slightly daydreaming when the daydream became a nightmare. The sailboat somehow fell off the trailer and came pinwheeling down the highway, heading straight for him.

The weight of the rudder caused the boat to spin faster and faster. What followed was pure luck. Kingman swerved to the far left lane of the three-lane highway as the spinning boat rapidly approached him. When he was sure he was going to die, the mast swept over his SUV inches above the roof.

If the boat had been a little smaller and the mast closer to the ground as the boat lay on its side, he would have become a giant Kingman-kabob. He pulled onto the shoulder and sat there until his shaking hands could again grip the steering wheel. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

He found Talbot’s house without much trouble and pulled into the driveway of a modest ranch. He was about to knock when the door opened and there stood Frank Talbot, an average-looking guy about thirty years of age.

Before Kingman could say hello, Talbot said, “Glad the sailboat missed you.” This caught Kingman totally by surprise.

“How in the hell did you know about the boat?” But Kingman instantly knew the answer to his own question. “You saw it on TV.”

Talbot replied, “I had to find a way to convince you that what I was experiencing was real. I thought that the encounter with the sailboat would get your attention. I caught Mr. Death’s broadcast just before you pulled into my driveway.”

“You definitely got my attention. I nearly messed my pants,” Kingman said. The two men then sat and talked for hours, and when Kingman left he already had the outline for a book, deciding it would be fiction but with an introduction dealing with the fact behind the fiction. Kingman began writing.

It was late summer and the writing was progressing well. Kingman loved walking the country roads near his property. On an August evening, he set out walking and thinking of the day’s writing and what he would put down on paper next. He never heard the approaching van.

Kingman awoke in the hospital with more pain than he had ever experienced in his life. A young doctor told him of his multiple fractures but reassured him that he would walk again. The doctor also told him that his heart had stopped twice in the ambulance due to the trauma his body had endured. “They defibrillated you,” the doctor said.

Kingman’s recovery took a long time and rehabilitation was painful. Shortly after the accident he learned that the driver of the van, already cited twice for reckless driving, blamed Kingman for the accident. He said that Kingman shouldn’t have been walking on the road.

Kingman felt a rage he had never felt before. His pain was excruciating. The painkillers had destroyed his writing. He spent hours dwelling on the accident, the insane accusations of the van driver and how the whole incident had changed his life.

Fall arrived: the changing leaves brightened the countryside, and Kingman took his first steps with the use of two canes. Every step delivered agony, but now he knew he would walk again. He hated the driver that had struck him, but he suppressed his rage as he tried to overcome the pain. He hoped he would be able to write soon.

The trees were now bare; fall was setting the landscape for winter. Kingman still could not write. He would spend hours thinking of plots and characters, but when he sat down to put words to paper, nothing would come.

Late one afternoon, as the shadows lengthened, Kingman sat alone in his family room, thinking. A short walk had left him exhausted and his legs were screaming with pain. Suddenly, the TV lit the room. On the screen, an announcer looking near death related the news of a suicide and produced a picture. It was a picture of the driver that had struck him. Kingman glanced at the TV’s plug and a slight smile crossed his lips.

Copyright © 2009 by Walt Trizna

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