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THE TIME GUARDIAN

The truck at Rosser’s Crossing was on its way to Houston, Texas, filled with groceries. Eighty thousand pounds of vehicle and canned vegetables neared Annie’s Grocery Mart and gas station on old Kentucky 79.

At the crossroad, Joey Hardin stood beside a teal-colored mustang singing as he replaced the nozzle in the old-fashioned gas pump and flipped the tank lid closed. He sang louder and swayed as he two-stepped to the driver’s side of the vehicle, climbed in, and cranked the engine.

Joey had a date tonight, and he was feeling good. He sat there a minute, adjusted the radio dial, and without looking, leaned into the turn and spun out of the parking lot directly in front of the truck. In one long second, Joey saw the horror on the driver’s face as he ground the gears, and the jake brake screamed in a futile attempt to slow the vehicle. In that second, they both knew it was impossible. Grinding metal and splintering glass forever shattered the quiet of the country community, and Joey Hardin died.

Midian sat up suddenly, breathing hard. That young man, if he lived, would lead people out of the darkness of their minds. He was in danger. Crushed at the age of seventeen by a careless misstep of youth. Midian worked to alter the moment, to manipulate the mind of the young man… to speak to him. Joey wasn’t open to him… yet.

Midian was a Time Guardian, and although he could not directly intervene in human affairs, he could reach into the mind and send thoughts, visions, and warnings. If an individual were receptive, they would hear him, and the flow of time would continue uninterrupted.

Midian was that little voice… He guided humanity, as was his task, but he rested now. He had been unsuccessful with the young man. Midian must speak to the driver… In fact, it was all up to the truck driver now.

Midian sought peace in thoughts of better days. He jumped the knoll and ran somewhere in the past. The birds flew around him, and the little animals, chipmunks, and squirrels ran too. He ran for joy in the beautiful day, wind slapping his long locks against his face and his bare feet pattering against the ground. There was nothing for miles. He breathed deeply and sat on the unspoiled grass he remembered. That was long ago. The people, young, the earth bright, clean and uncluttered.

Midian returned to his present task as he looked out over the rolling hills once dotted with buffalo and, occasionally, houses of The People. Today, the poisoned farmland, dirty water, and treeless hills maimed by black roads, power lines, and noisy chaos. Midian sighed. He’d been here a long time.

He remembered The People and their ancestors in these hills. Midian watched the weather warm after the last ice age and the large animals come and go. He saw the native peoples overcome as progress moved across the land.

Midian whispered to the hills, “The minds of the people are dim. Their technologies isolate them while making their nightmares come true. Their hearts are hard and closed, prone to hatred and unrest. They are troubled and unaware of the cause. The people are in a dark age at the most knowledgeably proficient time in history.” They are afraid… “A darkness has fallen over the land, fear controls them and Joey Hardin will change that… if he lives.”

Midian walked in the present under the winter sun. A walk always helped to clear his mind. The azure-colored sky above him, and the birds of the air and the fowl of the field walked with him. They covered him as he strolled up the path from the hill toward the house. Their energy was high, and he found their joy refreshing. Horace lay upon the bank looking out onto the highway, sunning himself.

Midian meandered across the small but beautifully appointed front yard. In spring, roses bloomed amid flowering vines, lilies, and carnations thrived in beds beside tiny moss roses, geraniums, and daisies. He breathed in the pleasing fragrances. The trees and shrubs were trimmed and neat, even though no one ever saw a gardener, or anyone else, for that matter.

Horace has been here for a long time too, Midian thought as he remembered the day Horace came to him. There was a child. A brown-skinned, brown-eyed girl named Ontwa. She was important to her tribe and Midian lay on his belly atop a hill, out of sight, watching the girl child below with keen eyes. Midian had seen the great cat carry her off in his dreams.

The cat was a mountain breed of tiger and would not usually prey upon the man village in the valley, but she was injured. She could not wrestle the mountain goat or race the white-tailed deer, and she and her cubs were starving. One was dying, and one was Horace.

These were the Adena people, and their future leader, Ontwa, was in danger. Midian reached out to her older brother, Sea’d. Watch Ontwa. She is in danger. Midian sent the awareness to him. An emotional feeling of disquiet, a warning of peril.

She is only toddling today, but she will integrate her people at the great juncture of sickness and starvation with the nomadic cultures of the plains and the great eastern tribes when the bison comes no more to this land. Without her, the Adena people will not pass their contributions and knowledge of trade and skills to the Hopewell Culture and the future populations of this land will suffer for it. Midian saw their future out of time.

Ontwa’s mother worked the bison hides with the other women outside their sturdy wooden home, and her father labored in the great salt cave today with the other men.

The young children played around the perimeter of the multi-family dwelling, built in a circular contour with the lay of the land.

Take care to watch Ontwa… Midian sent the thought again, intense, and loud to Sea’d standing watch as the children of the tribe ran to and fro. The boy immediately glanced her way and caught sight of the tiger in the tall grass, stealing toward camp. He sounded the alarm.

Midian breathed out, a relieved humming sound. Ontwa was safe. Sea’d hunted the injured cat and killed it, while Midian disappeared into the great forest to the den of the cat. That is when he found Horace, his faithful companion.

On the outside, their house was small, a white country clapboard like many others, maybe three rooms with a neat, unused barn on the left that comprised the total of the property. Nothing out of the ordinary to passersby… unless you counted the large black cat. Almost the size of a panther, he lay upon the knoll where they had cut the two-lane blacktop from the rock and surveyed the rolling green hills of southwestern Kentucky. The cat had an air of authority that people could see and feel. No one ventured there.

An eighteen-wheeler passed slowly, minding the grade. “Whoa,” the driver exclaimed and slowed even more as he stared in amazement at the man… he thought it was a man. Tall and slender in a long black coat and flat cap. He seemed to glide near the house by the road, literally covered with birds of every kind. Large geese brought up the rear and flocks of chickens and ducks surrounded him. Pigeons, doves, and blue jays, birds the driver didn’t recognize, perched on the man’s shoulders and flew about his head. There were so many he couldn’t see the man’s hands or feet.

Ezra, the driver, was astonished, and the sight haunted his mind long into the night.

Midian recognized the driver. Horace looked over his shoulder at Midian, who nodded and opened the door to the house. Horace got up, stretched, arched his body, then followed him inside.

***

Ezra stopped for dinner hours later. He liked the older Mom and Pop Truck Stops, although there weren’t many left these days. Jack Marston and his wife Tippy ran the little hole in the wall that parked nine trucks and still had an all-night Greasy Spoon Diner. Spring Lick was a little out of his way, but he’d rather drive a little farther than fight for parking in the modern fast-food Truck Stops.

He backed into the last spot at the far end of the parking lot and sat a minute looking at the night sky. I’m a dying breed, he thought as he stared across the hole-pocked parking lot. Electronics have cursed this industry and are choking the life from it now… I’ll see the end of Independent Truckers. He shook his head. It was a depressing thought. The drivers today will never know the camaraderie of a time when a stranded motorist prayed a trucker would pass… knowing they would help. Those days were long past him, and the birdman crossed his mind again.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he whispered to the night, seeing it again. “No one would believe it. Hell, I don’t believe it,” he laughed, opened his door, and breathed deeply of the night air. The sight of the man gave him a strange feeling as if he had witnessed something sacred. Ezra laughed at himself again. I’d be the last person to get a glimpse of something holy. I’m certainly no saint. The feeling persisted just the same.

“Hey Darlin’,” Tippy called as he entered the restaurant. “Be with ‘ya in a minute.”

Ezra sat at the counter on a padded stool. Tippy set down a glass of water and a cup of black coffee on her way to the window ledge, where she picked up two plates heaped with steaming food and carried them to a table.

“What’ll it be tonight? You want the special? Fried Catfish, slaw, and a baked potato or fries.”

“That’s fine,” Ezra said, preoccupied with his thoughts.

“Well? Baked potato or fries?”

“Fries.”

Tippy cocked her head at him as she scratched out his order and clipped it on the wire at the window that led back into the kitchen. “You feelin’ alright?” she asked as she whisked past him toward the tables.

He didn’t answer.

“Hey!” Jack said as he came through the back door with buckets of ice. He set them down and reached out to shake Ezra’s hand before he poured them into the ice machine. “Good t’see ‘ya. How’s it going?”

“Couldn’t be better, I guess,” Ezra laughed. He stopped here almost every Sunday evening for the last four years. Jack and Tippy had become friends of his.

The dinner crowd was thinning by the time Tippy brought his food, and Jack poured a cup of coffee and sat beside him.

“Are ‘ya on the same route this week?” Jack asked.

“No. I’m picking up groceries in the morning. A full load headed for Houston,” Ezra said and sipped his coffee.

“Do you want this last piece of coconut pie?” Tippy asked.

“Yes.” Both men answered and then laughed.

“I’ll half it.” she set two saucers down in front of them before taking her cart to bus the tables.

“I guess you have kitchen duty tonight,” Ezra said as he ate his pie.

“No. We hired a new cook and dishwasher. He’s working out. It makes this place easier on Tippy and me, too. We should’ve hired help years ago.”

Ezra grinned and pushed his empty saucer away. “Do you ever go up around Falls of the Rough?”

Jack looked up, surprised. “Not much. Tippy don’t like that country.”

“I saw the strangest thing today and I can’t get it off my mind.”

“What was it?” Jack asked.

Ezra described what he had seen and, to his surprise, Jack listened intently.

“Don’t say anything to Tip. She gets nervous about that kind of thing. She was up there one winter a few years back and got stuck in a terrible storm. The roads iced over, and traffic backed up.” Jack hesitated as Tippy came back on her way to the kitchen. She smiled at them and gathered their dished but didn’t stop to chat.

Jack continued in a low voice. “She saw something… she said the air sort of sparkled and she couldn’t see outside her windows. When it cleared, she was sitting in her car on the side of a hill, all alone. The cars and the storm were gone. As far as she could see there was no road, lights, nothing… it was like time hiccupped. That’s what she called it.

“The sparkle covered her again, and everything was back. The cars were moving… but three hours had passed, Ezra. She told me she was there for minutes, but three hours had passed. Tippy won’t go near that place anymore. She won’t even talk about it. Scared the hell out of her.”

Ezra cleared his throat. “Well, I never saw anything like that. I’ve driven by that place every week for the last four years. The yard is landscaped, always blooming, and beautiful. Come to think of it… This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone there. I always see this big, black cat, but never people.” He was quiet for a while. “Guess, I better get to bed, Jack. Four o’clock comes early.”

“Take care out there,” Jack said, by way of goodbye.

***

Midian closed the door behind Horace and hung up his coat and hat. Horace padded across the shimmering stone floor to the hearth and lay on a thick rug before the blazing fire while Midian put on the kettle in the sparkling bronzed agate kitchen. He liked the energy of the glassy agate. The fine pores of the gemstone and the polished texture were soothing to him.

It wasn’t a large kitchen, but the old-fashioned enameled stove had two burners and a wood-burning oven, a sink with a gleaming hand pump, and hand-hewn oak cabinetry in a warm old wood finish. The floors were covered with rugs and the twelve-foot-high ceilings he’d draped in a tufted material, a light tan color that softened the lustrous stone interior.

A large living area made the hearth its central focus with two deep easy chairs. This area flanked by the kitchen on the right and an enormous library on the left was home for Midian and Horace. A bath and bedroom were situated behind the living area.

The outside was an illusion and had been for centuries. Midian once busied himself with a small kitchen garden. It pleased him in the years of the Great Depression when so many suffered so much. He left the food for starving neighbors disguised as an old woman. He shook his head… Not even in that day had the minds of the people been as hardened as they are now.

Midian sank into the easy chair beside Horace and placed a shallow bowl of tea on the floor. Horace lapped at it while Midian blew the heat from the rim of his cup.

Why did you allow the truck driver to see you? Horace asked Midian in the silence of his mind.

“I must speak to him tomorrow. I hoped it might make him more open to my voice…” Midian answered aloud.

What about the boy? I thought you were going to alter the timing and destination through him.

“He has changed his plans, but he will wind up back at the station at Rosser’s Crossing. I have seen it several times… It is up to the trucker now.” Midian stretched.

“It is time for us to move on, Horace. We have been here too long.”

Where will we go?

“I don’t know. I may rest for a while. Even Guardians must rest.”

Is something wrong with you?

“I have grown ineffectual, I fear. People’s minds are closed. It is difficult for me to help them. If I can no longer help the people of this time… then there is no reason for me to remain.”

Horace meowed, more of a low growl, but Midian understood Horace felt his sadness.

***

Ezra backed his trailer in and felt the dock plate shake the truck. He glanced at the red light, settled in, and tried to read, but couldn’t keep his mind on the book as the truck rocked and rolled with the loading.

Ezra was restless and relieved when he got the green light that told him he was loaded. He pulled away from the dock, shut his trailer doors, and locked the seal that the receiver would break, tossed his paperwork on the dash, and pulled out. He felt heavy on the front axles. Ezra left the shipper planning to stop at the nearest CAT Scale so he could even the weight on his axles.

***

Midian paced the resting winter gardens under the sunrise on that cold and stormy December morning. His mind was anxious and troubled by his inability to reach the young man. Sometimes, events were inevitable… this was not one of those times. Joey Hardin was important to the future.

Horace sat silent and watchful on the knoll, feeling his friend’s anxiety. He felt the shift as Ezra left the Pilot Truck Stop. He’d weighed the truck, grabbed lunch from the Iron Skillet Restaurant, and now he was moving on to Highway 79 where he would encounter Joey Hardin.

***

Ezra knew the heart of this land. He was born in the house his father built in Irvine. That was eastern Kentucky. It was in his blood, Appalachia. He was still thinking of the birdman while he sang along to the old song by John Prine, Paradise. “Daddy won’t ‘ya take me back to Muhlenberg County…” he belted out. When the song was over, he turned the radio off and drove in silence. It was a gray day, and he couldn’t shake that feeling from yesterday. He hated that feeling of dread or tragedy about to happen.

“Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away,” he half murmured, and half sang the verse of the song he had just been listening to.

Be ready to stop! Ezra heard the loud, clear command crack in the silence around him… the silence of his mind. He saw Rosser’s Crossing. The store, the stop signs at the crossroad, the gas pumps. Hell, he even saw the hills and draws around them like someone painted the picture, clearly imprinted across his mind.

Ezra caught his breath and slowed the truck. It stayed with him. He wouldn’t be at Rosser’s Crossing for a while yet. Half an hour or so, he checked the mileage.

“Damn,” he swore. “What’s wrong with me?” He turned the radio back on, frustrated, and tried to put it out of his mind. The voice came again. Not as loud this time, but the picture was just as vivid.

Slow down. Be ready to stop.

Ezra sat up straight and slowed even more, turned off the radio, and focused on the road. He felt something… was coming. Something looming over him.

He was approaching Rosser’s Crossing slowly. There were no cars at the stop signs, no traffic at all. No people… he couldn’t see anything wrong. Ezra looked out over the rolling hills and hollers of western Kentucky and took a deep breath.

“There’s nothing here. What the hell is…” Ezra complained aloud but stopped as a teal-colored mustang whipped out of the parking lot right in front of him. He saw the young man’s face clearly through the flat windshield as he geared down and stomped his brakes. He slowed just enough for the mustang to swing by in front of him, untouched.

Ezra pulled over to the roadside, huffing. He usually came through here at 70 miles per hour, the speed limit. He’d been doing just 40 miles per hour and even so, the mustang cleared his bumper by inches, not feet. They were close, close enough Ezra witnessed the horror in the boy’s eyes. He felt it. The boy knew he was going to die.

“God saved you for a reason, young man,” Ezra whispered as he drew a ragged breath and watched the teal-colored mustang fade from sight. He knew it was true. He didn’t understand what or why… but he knew he had been a part of something profound that afternoon. The feeling of apprehension left him and, in its place, a weariness. Ezra knew it was over and he felt exhausted.

***

Midian jumped for joy. “He did it! He did it!” he reached down and stroked Horace, which he rarely did.

Horace rolled his eyes and settled back on the knoll.

“The driver heard me. He had an open mind. There must be others. Perhaps it is not yet time to rest, Horace.” Midian jumped and disappeared. Horace licked his paws contentedly in the sunshine, unmoved by Midian’s disappearance.

Midian revisited the Valley where Ontwa had been spared, although now the ledge looked down on a sprawling city. He walked among the people unseen. His long black coat stirring in the blustery winds of the city sidewalk.

A child ran up to him. “Hey, Mister. Do you want some candy?” Shocked into silence for the child could see him, Midian stared at him. “Do you?” the child prodded and offered the peppermint. Midian nodded his head and took the proffered candy.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Samuel. What are you doing? Stop running off like that.” His mother caught up with him and took his hand, pulling him along. Midian turned, watching the child… The boy turned his head to look back at Midian.

He saw me… he will remember me. Midian saw into their future. The child, Samuel Bluitt, touched by Joey Hardin, would be part of the ascending generation. A new generation of the people.

Midian jumped again and strolled with purpose up the lane to the house. The birds flocked to him, and he laughed aloud. “It will snow soon.” He shooed them away. “Find somewhere warm for the evening.”

Horace rose and followed him into the house. Once settled at the fire, “We’re moving,” Midian announced.

So… no rest for the Guardian? Horace asked.

“Not yet, old friend. Not yet.”

***

Three days later, Ezra was pondering the exact timing of the experience he had with the young man as he passed the house near Rough River on his way home. He looked for the birdman. The house and yard were covered in snow. The vines seemed overgrown, and the house looked drab. I’ve never seen it like that. Maybe it’s the snow…

However, in a bright ring about a foot in diameter, through inches of freshly fallen snow in freezing temperatures… a mound of bright yellow spring daffodils stood waving in the wind as if they waved for him.

“Impossible,” Ezra said. Impossible… he thought again as he drove away, watching them grow smaller in his mirror.

Thank you… Ezra heard softly in his mind and felt such a sense of gratitude as the yellow flowers moved out of sight.

He didn’t make it back for two weeks, but he thought about it often. When he passed the house this time, he was shocked. He pulled the big truck over, got out, and walked back to the house. The weeds in the yard were as tall as he. Vines and shrubs were overgrown in a jumble… in and over each other as if they had not been cut for years. The roof of the house sagged, and the paint chipped away from the clapboards. The barn had fallen in.

This place is dead, Ezra realized with a sense of loss. Whatever gave it life… has gone.

The End