A few years ago I was working at a restaurant and one day my boss told me to go outside to get some wood from the woods behind our house. I went out there with him and we found some old trees that had been cut down many years before. They were big, heavy logs so it took us awhile just to drag them across the ground. When we got back inside the restaurant, I asked my boss what kind of wood they were. He looked at me and said “wood.” And then he pointed to a tree in the corner of the yard and said “that’s oak!”

I didn’t understand why he would say something like that unless it was true. So I asked him again and he repeated himself. Then I realized that it wasn’t just his word against mine; it was both of ours against each other!

It seemed like he knew something I didn’t.

But how could he?

He hadn’t seen any wood for decades.

How did he know all those things about trees when I’d never even touched one? Why couldn’t I have known the same thing? What if we’d only ever talked to each other on the phone or through email for years and never met face to face?

I had to find out if other people could tell the difference between the trees just by looking. I asked everybody I worked with, customers too, and most of them didn’t seem to know what kind of wood it was. I don’t get why people go on about knowing this stuff when all they have to do is look at the tree and see what kind it is! Maybe it’s like birds and they all look the same. Maybe it’s the same way with trees.

But not all of them did guess wrong. Nobody else could tell, but a couple of people got it right every now and then. Also, it turned out that my boss knew a lot more about trees than I thought. He explained to me that experience counts for more than just about anything.

So if you want to know about trees, go outside and look at them for a long time.

I’ve been doing that ever since. I even took a few classes at the community college so I could learn how to tell the difference between tree species just by looking at them! And I’m still not there yet. That’s okay though; I’m getting closer every day.

Last week my son asked me where the trees came from. I didn’t know how to answer him. My wife told me the Bible says God made everything and so I started to try to explain that, but he interrupted and wanted to know where God came from. That’s when I realized I don’t really know much about where anything comes from.

If I had my way, I’d say everything was there in the beginning and it hasn’t changed since, but that doesn’t answer his question.

I started reading a lot of books about science. Some of them I borrowed from the library and some I even bought. They all had different explanations for how everything came to be but none of them really explained it very well. None of them were very satisfying.

None of them really told me where anything came from. My son is still asking questions and I still don’t have any good answers for him. I wish somebody did.

What really confuses me though is that trees have been around a lot longer than all of those science books. Maybe it’s time I started reading a different kind of book.

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I really wish I hadn’t thrown away that deck of cards…

~0~

How many cards are left?”

you ask.

“None,” the old man says, “But it doesn’t matter. You won.”

I did?”

“Sure. I was just telling you a story. It has nothing to do with you. This game is over.” The old man lays his shiny coin on the table, directly on top of the queen of hearts. Then he stands up and starts walking toward the exit.

Excuse me, sir,” you say after standing up yourself, “But is there any point to any of this? Any point at all?”

The old man turns around and looks at you. A smile slowly spreads across his face. “There’s always a point. If not here then somewhere else. Keep looking and one day you’ll find one.” After wishing you good luck, he walks out the door. You never see him again.

As you leave the building and stand outside, the first thing you notice is that it’s brighter outside than it has any right to be. The sun should be setting by now but it looks to be at least three or four in the afternoon. The streets are full of people moving around and doing their own things. Some of them are dressed very strangely.

You are standing in front of a building that says “City Bank” across the front in big block letters. There is a man next to you wearing bright blue clothes with a strange little hat and he is holding a shovel. The strangest thing about him is he isn’t talking or making any noise at all! You glance around and everyone else in sight is doing the same, walking around without making any sound.

You get scared and take a step back as the man with the shovel looks at you. Then he turns away and throws his shovel down into the dirt. He yells something but you can’t hear a word. He shakes his head as he walks over to a little box on the side of the bank building and takes off his hat, placing it in the box.

You look behind you and see two women dressed in what looks like long dresses from the eighteen hundreds. They are both carrying luggage and walking toward a stagecoach that is waiting for them. The driver isn’t moving though; he’s just standing there holding the reigns. Everything is silent and it’s starting to creep you out.

You see a newspaper on the ground and walk over to pick it up. It’s today’s paper. Today! You look around again and begin to feel strange.

Something isn’t right here…

“Excuse me,” a voice says behind you. You turn around and find a man with thick glasses and wild looking hair. He looks like he’ve just been in a tornado. “

You wouldn’t happen to know what year this is would you?”

“It’s 1985,” you reply.

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The man’s eyes get large and he takes a step back from you. Then, he looks around again at everything. He rushes over to the bank building and grabs the man with the shovel on top of it. They have a short conversation that you can’t hear then all three of them turn and look right at you.

The one with the glasses starts walking towards you. You’ve never been very good at guessing ages, but he can’t be older than his late twenties or early thirties… right? Now he’s looking at you like you’re supposed to know him.

You’re sure you’d remember someone wearing that outfit before. That jacket with all those patches… The long hair… The facial hair…

Then it hits you. “Wait… are you

Steve?”

He smiles. “I sure hope so.

Who are you?”

That’s when you realize that something is very, very wrong here. “I’m… I’m…” You have no idea what your name is! You can’t remember anything about yourself. All you know is that your first instinct was to lie.

What else do you know?

“Don’t worry,” Steve says. “It happens here. You’ll get your memory back in a minute. Or perhaps not.

Who knows how long you were lying there for?

It could be anything.

In the meantime, why don’t you come with me?

You look a little confused.”

Confused. That describes you perfectly right now.

What are you going to do?

~

You can’t even believe this. You’ve been here for over an hour and your memory still hasn’t come back. Or maybe it has and you’re just in too much of a shock to realize it yet. It’s the only explanation…

right?

Steve, David (the man with the shovel), and yourself went back to Steve’s house after the encounter at the bank. There you met his wife Lisa who began to make dinner for all of you. During dinner, you learned that the year is 1876. You also learned that you are Steve and Lisa’s cousin, John.

They haven’t seen you since you were a little boy. Their house was your father’s house, John Sr. He died recently of natural causes and left the property to you. You’ve been missing for over a decade.

Just think, if you hadn’t picked up that newspaper you’d still be lying in the dirt believing that it was 1885. You might’ve gone on believing that for the rest of your life.

Right now you’re sitting in the den trying to take it all in.

Steve and David are out looking for you, but there’s a question you want answering first: Where was everyone else when the bank collapsed? Was it an accident? Or something more sinister?

While Lisa was fixing your leg with some bandages, she mentioned there had been rumors that Jake Hammond had been threatening Mayor Hinston. If he was behind this then you’ll find out soon enough and take care of him.

But what if he isn’t behind it? What if it’s someone else entirely?

The possibilities are endless.

You hear the front door open and close. That will be Steve and David returning from their search. You’d better think of an excuse for where you’ve been and who you are.

~

I said who are you and where have you been?”

asks Lisa as she wipes her hands on a dishcloth. “I’m waiting.”

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“He’s been through a lot, Lisa,” says Steve. “He can tell us all about it after he’s eaten.”

I don’t think he’s so tired he can’t eat, do you?”

Lisa turns to you expectantly.

“I… I could go for some food…” you stammer.

You’re not sure what else to say. You desperately try to come up with an excuse, but your mouth is as dry as a desert. “I… uh…”

It doesn’t help that Lisa is staring at you with a look that would wilt flowers and shrivel children. Both Steve and David are looking at you expectantly. If you’re not careful you’ll say something stupid and they’ll all laugh at you.

But then, what does it matter?

You’re in the past. They’ll find out sooner or later.

“I… I don’t have amnesia,” you blurt out. “This is all a part of an act.”

There is a moment of silence and then everyone starts laughing. You laugh along with them, though it doesn’t really feel like laughter. It feels more like crying. And the truth of the matter is, you’re not so much laughing as you are sobbing.

You cry for the life you won’t get to live. The friends you won’t see again. The wife and children you’ll never meet. Everything you were is gone, and everything you might have been is dead.

You cry because your heart is broken and it doesn’t matter what year it is.

The tears flow down your cheeks as the four of you sit around the table; laughter fills the room. You can’t even bring yourself to pretend you’re having a good time. It’s a sham, a sick and twisted sham. And yet, no one questions it.

Not Steve, not Lisa, not even David. They all pretend everything is okay.

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And maybe it is. Maybe it is okay. They seem happy. You’re the one who’s suffering.

So you wipe away your tears and force a smile onto your face. Maybe pretending everything is okay isn’t so bad after all. For them, at least.

And so you sit at the table and laugh with them. And when dinner is over, David tells you there’s a spare bedroom upstairs. You allow him to show you the room and prepare for bed. But before you do, Lisa comes up to you.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she says, outstretching her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you too.” You shake her hand.

“If you’re ever feeling lonely, I’d love for you to join me for a drink at the tavern. Just ask for Lisa.”

“I will,” you say.

Lisa smiles and leaves the room. You get into bed and dwell on all the things that have happened to you so far. So many things are different, yet at the same time, they’re all exactly the same. You have a lot of living to do, and a lot of mistakes to make.

It’s going to be a long two months.

~END~

Sources & references used in this article:

Procedure to measure the level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in wood ashes used as fertilizer in agroforestry soils and their transfer from ashes to water by L Rey-Salgueiro, MS García-Falcón… – Journal of Agricultural …, 2004 – ACS Publications

Utilization of ashes from biomass combustion and gasification by JR Pels, DS de Nie, JHA Kiel – 14th European Biomass …, 2005 – researchgate.net

Chemical characteristics of biomass ashes by G Zając, J Szyszlak-Bargłowicz, W Gołębiowski… – Energies, 2018 – mdpi.com

Receptacle for ashes of deceased by RS Crook – US Patent 5,647,108, 1997 – Google Patents

The plant availability of phosphorus from thermo-chemically treated sewage sludge ashes as studied by 33P labeling techniques by S Nanzer, A Oberson, L Berger, E Berset, L Hermann… – Plant and Soil, 2014 – Springer

Utilization of biomass ashes by JR Pels, AJ Sarabèr – Solid biofuels for energy, 2011 – Springer

Feasibility evaluation of biomass fly ashes from power station using as fertilizer by Z Zhang, Z Han, C Sheng – Transactions of the Chinese Society …, 2016 – ingentaconnect.com

Evaluation of a phosphate fertilizer from sewage sludge ashes: a journey from the molecule to the field by S Nanzer – 2012 – research-collection.ethz.ch

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