by Lou Antonelli
Marcus clambered down what had been a railroad embankment, took his bearings with his compass, and began to hack away at the vines. He began to sweat profusely and he made very slow progress.
After three hours, he was barely out of sight of his starting point. He realized he would be trapped in the thicket after sunset. He began to chop more furiously and push ahead more carelessly, sustaining vicious scrapes and welts as his leggings tore.
“If I don’t get to at least somewhere where I can start a fire,” he muttered, “I’ll be dead anyway.”
The last glints of the reddish setting sun were fading behind him when he realized there was a clearing ahead. He chopped madly with the last of his strength, and then lurched the last twenty feet. He fell onto bare crumbling dirt.
“Thank God,” he gasped, as he got onto his knees. He was at the edge of a cornfield.
He looked around. “He must be nearby,” he said to himself.
It was almost completely dark now. He began to gather corn stubble out of the dirt for a fire. He piled it into a teepee, took his flint and began to strike.
A voice rang out behind him. “Hey, kid, try this, it’s a lot easier!”
Marcus jumped up in fright and fell back into row of cornstalks. An old, tall man holding an oil lantern walked towards him. He bent down and set the lantern on the ground. “If you need a fire, you had better tend to it, son.”
Marcus stared up at him, pop-eyed. “I - don’t - need it now!” he stammered.
“Really,” said the old man, in feigned surprise. “Whatcha doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
The old man looked down on the boy, barely a teenager. “God, you’re a mess, the thicket tore you all up,” he said. “Just a kid, too. What’s your name, son?”
“Marcus, Marcus Thompson.” The boy stood up. His leggings were shredded, and his shirt almost torn off. He was bloody and dirty, and there were twigs and leaves in his hair.
“What the hell are you doing in the middle of the thicket?” asked the old man.
“I came all the way from Bigdee to find you,” Marcus gasped.
“Really? All the way from Dallas? That’s over 120 miles, kid. And who do you think I am?”
Marcus looked the old man in the eye. “Doctor June Rayfield Lageboer.”
The old man picked up the lantern and held it up to get a better look at the boy’s face. He scratched his chin with the other hand. “I haven’t heard anyone use my full name in over two hundred years.”
He turned and waved the lantern ahead. “Follow me.”
Dr. Lageboer walked away from the cornrow. Marcus followed him. After a few yards, Marcus realized they were at the base of a small hill. Dr. Lageboer stopped and pulled a device from his pocket, and pointed it towards the hill. Marcus heard the grinding of a chain, and a gateway appeared.
He followed Dr. Lageboer inside as walked over to a wall and pushed a button. The doorway came down.
“It’s very well camouflaged. You would have never found me,” he said.
Marcus was stunned. They were indoors but there was bright light. He looked over and saw a large, low enclosed metal and glass carriage with large rubber wheels.
Dr. Lageboer saw the boy’s expression. “Yes, it’s an automobile. Follow me inside, you need to clean up.”
In an anteroom he ordered the boy to strip, and then brought him a sopping wet towel and a clean, dry robe. “Try to clean up as best you can,” he said. “I’ll be waiting right outside the door,” said Dr. Lageboer.
Marcus scraped off the mud and stains from weeks of travel, washed himself off, and put on the robe.
Dr. Lageboer sat at the head of a large oak table, with a comfortable fire burning in the fireplace behind him. “It’s still chilly at night this time of year,” he said as he gestured for Marcus to sit down. “Now you need to answer a few questions for me.”
“Yes, sir,” said Marcus.
“How old are you?”
“Are you alone?”
“Really? You came all this way by yourself.”
“I’m good at hiding and seeking,” said Marcus. “I’ve snuck outside the city walls many times.”
“You have a family?”
“My mother died five years ago, scab fever. My father doesn’t care about me, he cuts wood and drinks.”
“How do you know about me?”
”My great-great-grandfather wrote down a book, by hand. It’s called a journal.”
“So you know how to read and write, then. So what did he write that led you to me?”
“He said his grandfather told him, before he died, that a man he knew at the university had been granted immortality by the Gods, for his virtue — the same Gods that struck down the heathen Americans.”
Dr. Lageboer leaned forward on his forearms and looked down the table at the teenager. “What was his name?”
“My grandfather five times over was named Lanny Joske.”
Dr. Lageboer stood up and turned around, facing the fire. “It’s been hundreds of years since I heard the name of anyone I knew from before what you call The Crash.”
“So it’s true! The Gods in the sky protected you and brought you through The Crash, and gave you eternal life.”
Dr. Lageboer turned around quickly. “So what do you want from me? I suppose you want treasure?”
Marcus looked down at his feet beneath the table. “I liked the schoolmaster, I don’t like my father. After I read what my great-great-grandfather wrote, I thought, ‘This Professor Lageboer could teach me so much more!’” He stopped. “My father was going to sell me to be apprenticed. I ran away, with some notes I copied from the journal, to find you. It said you lived a mile east of the Pleasantville courthouse square on the road that left the square by the southeast corner.”
“Well, as you saw, the thicket grew over the road centuries ago.” Dr. Lageboer turned around. “Interesting, you’ve got some of what we used to call ‘gumption’, and natural curiosity.”
“So I can stay? Can you learn me?”
Dr. Lageboer smiled. “We’ll see.”
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Lou Antonelli