By CM Strawn
“Josh! Get away from there!” Were the words Josh heard as he felt the ground under his feet go soft then give way.
He felt dazed as he lay on his back. All around him was darkness. There was a light above him that looked square. His head started throbbing and felt like it might explode. He felt sick at his stomach and he could hardly breathe. He tried to move, but he couldn’t.
The light above him was getting fuzzy, then it went out.
He was hurting and he felt tired. He wanted to sleep. Maybe he wouldn’t hurt anymore if he closed his eyes.
Someone was calling, “Josh! Josh! Can you hear me?” The sound was getting farther away.
“Dad?” Josh mumbled.
Then silence. No more pain.
Josh had been in his room playing with his inside toys because it was a snowy Monday in January.
School was closed today because it had snowed a lot. That had made it hard for the school bus to come pick him up in the morning. That was ok with Josh, because he could play outside.
Today, though, his Mom said it was too cold to play outside, no matter how many coats he had on. So, that is why he had to play inside. His Dad had to go to work anyway. His job was too important for him to stay home because of snow. But now his Dad was home from work.
He was headed down the hallway to the kitchen for a drink of water. He had to pass by the living room and heard his Dad talking to his Mom in a low voice.
Josh knew he wasn’t supposed to hear, but he wanted to know what his Mom and Dad were talking about. They would probably tell him later, anyway. Besides, he liked to hear grown-ups talk.
”Liz.” His Dad had said quietly. “I’ve got some bad news.” Josh could hear the sadness in his Dad’s voice.
“What is it, Stewart?” Josh’s Mom asked just as quietly in a concerned voice.
“I got orders for Korea, today. It’s a twelve-month remote tour.”
” Oh, no.” Josh’s Mom said. He could hear the tears in her voice. That’s what he called it when his Mom got upset. She called it getting emotional. But Josh could tell that his Mom was more than emotional. He felt his own chest tighten and a funny feeling in his tummy as he thought about what his Dad had just said.
“When do you go?” Josh’s Mom asked. He could tell that she was trying to be strong, without much success.
“My departure date is April one. Some April-fools-joke.” Josh’s Dad said, his voice getting husky and stronger, “The Air Force sure knows how to mess with a man’s family.”
Josh could tell that his Dad was getting angry. But he knew it wasn’t at him. He peeked around the corner with one eye.
“You know I wouldn’t take you guys over there, even if I could.” His Dad said solemnly. “It’s just too dangerous.”
“I know.” Josh’s Mom said with a catch in her voice. “It’s only for twelve months.”
She was trying to be comforting and brave, but there was a bite in her voice when she said, ‘twelve months’.
Regaining her resolve, she said, “Besides, we agreed what an advantage a military retirement will mean for us.” She nodded up at him, fiddling with his Dad’s collar. “This is something that we need to do. We’ll be together again, soon.” Even as she tried to be strong, a tear escaped her eye and tumbled down her cheek.
Josh heard his Mom sniffle when she finished talking. Then he could hear her softly crying and saw his Dad was holding her the way his Dad held him when he was hurt.
He wished that his Dad would hold him right now, too.
Suddenly he felt his legs running. His Dad reached down and picked him up with one arm while he held his Mom in the other. His Mom reached her arm around him, too. He could see tears in his Dad’s eyes too and he exploded into sobs with his head buried in his Dad’s chest.
Slowly he saw light beginning to materialize. Fuzzy at first, then starting to take shape. It looked like a square of sorts. Muffled sounds came from somewhere. His head hurt then started pounding with each pulse of his heart.
“Josh! Josh! Can you hear me! We’re going to get you out!”
The words were shouted from somewhere. He could just make out the words.
“Mmmmm!” He groaned. In his mind he said ‘Ok’.
He felt a lump under his back where he lay. He tried to roll over. Pain coursed through his body. He heard loud groaning then realized it was him.
The pain in his head became unbearable. The pain in his back was excruciating. He heard what sounded like a scream. Blackness and silence overtook him. No more pain.
Being nine-and-a-half-going-on-ten had taken forever. He thought he would spend his whole life at nine-and-a-half.
Then, one day, his Mom had said, “Josh, you’re going to be ten years old in a month. What would you like to do for your birthday?”
He didn’t have to think about it because the zoo was the best place in the whole world; everybody knew that. Especially if Mom and Dad were both there.
“But I want to go with you and Dad.” Josh made sure she understood that he wanted both his Mom and Dad there. His Dad would be going away soon for a whole year. He wasn’t sure how long that was, except that he would be eleven years old when he saw his Dad again. Besides, the zoo just wasn’t the same unless Mom and Dad were both there. It was just more fun.
“I think we can make that happen.” His Mom had smiled.
“Great!” Josh shouted. “This is gonna be the greatest day of all.”
When he said that, his Mom gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, which he wiped off. He really liked it when his Mom kissed him, but he was growing up and kisses were for little kids.
His Dad was in the Air Force and had a really important job. He couldn’t always be at special things because he sometimes had to work late. Other times he had to be away from home for a while. Josh’s birthday was February twelfth and his Dad had promised to be there on his birthday, no matter what.
There was sound – some kind of banging. Light flashed on his eyelids. He tried to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t obey.
Throbbing in his head returned and it felt worse. Pain in his back was not as bad. His ears were ringing with the pain.
He felt his eyelids raised and a blinding light flashed instantly then was gone. He tried to recoil but his body wouldn’t move.
The sudden effort caused the back pain to surge and his head felt as if it would explode. He heard muffled sound again like someone was talking. Then he felt his body being moved and the pain sliced through his body. Darkness and silence enfolded him. No more pain.
Josh watched the panorama float by from where he was seated behind his Mother in the car. Josh was ten years old today, and everything was going to be great.
He knew that his Dad would be gone for a year soon, but Josh was happy that he was spending his birthday at the zoo with his Mom and Dad.
Nothing could mess today up. It was cold but he didn’t think the animals would mind. The cold just made it more fun.
His Dad was driving, and his Mom always said,
“Stewart, you’re driving too fast. Remember, we have precious cargo.”
Josh knew that he was the ‘precious cargo’. It sounded like his Mom was scolding his Dad like she did sometimes. They didn’t actually argue in front of him, but they did talk seriously. That was ok, because he was going to the zoo with his parents.
Josh didn’t even mind when his Dad said in his serious voice,
“I can drive, Lizzy.”
He didn’t think his Dad wasn’t really mad because he always drove with one hand on the steering wheel and his other hand holding her hand. His Dad didn’t seem to really mind his Mom telling him how to drive.
Besides, his Dad only called his Mom ‘Lizzy’ when he was teasing her. He was the only one allowed to call her that name. Most of the time he called her ‘’Lizabeth’ or ‘Liz’ for short, and that is what a lot of people called his Mom.
Josh liked going fast, anyway.
“Stewart, the turn is right there.” Josh’s Mom said to his Dad in the tone she used when she was being patient telling Josh what to do.
“I see it, Lizzy.” Josh’s Dad said patiently to his Mom as he turned into the zoo parking lot entrance. He held on to his wife’s hand as he made the turn. She made no attempt to take her hand back.
“Are we there, yet?” Josh asked excitedly. He knew they were, but he wanted to hear them say they were.
“We’re turning into the parking lot right now, buddy.” Josh’s Dad said brightly. “Are you ready to see the animals?”
“YEAH!” Josh shouted.
“You make sure you keep your coat on.” Josh’s Mom said, sternly. “It’s cold outside, and I don’t want you getting sick. That goes for you, too, Stewart.”
“Aw, Mom!” Josh and his Dad said together.
“You mind what I said.” Josh’s Mom said to both of them. Then she spoke directly to her husband, “You need to set a good example for your son, Stewart.”
“We’ll be fine.” Josh’s Dad said to his Mom in a patronizing way.
“You won’t be fine if you both get sick.” She exploded. “I won’t have it. You both keep your coats on. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Josh and his Dad said together.
Elizabeth looked at her husband and son as if she were looking at two boys instead of just one and narrowed her eyes. “You are both incorrigible.”
Josh and his Dad laughed uproariously. Josh’s Dad pulled into a parking spot and stopped the car.
“WE’RE HERE!” Shouted, Josh as he piled out of the car.
“Keep your coat on!” Josh heard his Mom yell at him before he slammed the car door shut. He could smell the zoo smell from the parking lot.
‘This is going to be a great day.’ Josh thought to himself, anticipating getting into the zoo.
He felt tightness around his chest, and it was hard to breath. His arms were pinned to his sides and he couldn’t move his legs. There was a sudden lurch that made his headache.
It felt like cotton filled his head and he couldn’t focus his thoughts. There were sounds like people talking and scraping noises.
Panic gripped him. He struggled against the restrictions. He heard a voice close to him. A sharp prick in his arm. The world around him grew fuzzy then silent then darkness.
The birthday-at-the-zoo was a great day. Josh knew that he would remember it forever. They looked at all the animals, ate popcorn and corndogs and cotton candy. Mom said the cotton candy would rot Josh’s teeth out, but Dad talked her into it, ‘just this once’. Mom gave in, but he thought he might get cotton candy again if it were another special day. They all had so much fun that they almost forgot about Dad going away for a year.
The next weeks were mixed with happiness and sadness. Some days, Josh would forget about his Dad’s orders because they were doing things together. Then, he would remember, and he would feel like crying. He didn’t cry, though, because he wasn’t little anymore.
One day, before his Dad left, Josh’s Mom told his Dad that her brother, Max, had invited her and Josh to spend the summer with him at his place in Oregon. His Dad thought that was a great idea and asked Josh if he wanted to go to Oregon and visit Uncle Max for the summer. That is when Josh started to get excited. He loved to go to visit Uncle Max.
“Josh! Josh! Can you hear me.” The voice was near him. It sounded like it was coming from a tunnel. It got louder and clearer.
His eyes were heavy. He tried to open them, but they wouldn’t move the first time. Slowly his eyelids came apart. There was a fuzzy shape above him. His vision cleared and he could see a man.
“Josh! You have been injured. We are taking you to the hospital.”
“Mmmm-mmm.” He couldn’t understand why his mouth wouldn’t work.
“This is going to be a little bumpy. We’ll be as gentle as we can.”
He felt a jolt. His whole body felt as though it were being pulled apart. The sound of a motor then more rattling and clanging.
“This will help.” The voice said close to his head.
“The world became fuzzy again. Silence and darkness descended once more.
The road was long and windy. It took a little over an hour to get to the old mines. Josh didn’t mind because there were lots of interesting things to see on the way.
When they turned onto a road that Josh could barely see, he started getting more excited.
“Is this the place?”
“Yup. We’re here.” Uncle Max shut off the engine and opened his door. Josh had already jumped out before the engine stopped.
“Where’s all the gold?” Josh asked not even trying to hide his excitement.
“There might be a little gold left.” Uncle Max said. “But I thought we might find some interesting rocks.”
“Rocks!” Josh said, wrinkling his nose. Clearly Uncle Max had lost his sense, but he didn’t say that.
“Yes.” Uncle Max began, “What do you think a diamond is?”
Josh shrugged his shoulders.
“A diamond, like the one in your Mom’s wedding ring, is a rock. It has been shaped and polished.”
“Are there diamonds here?” Josh asked, puzzled.
“I doubt it. But there are other kinds of rocks that are valuable that we might find here.” Uncle Max explained.
“What are they?” Josh was starting to get interested.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to look around and see what we find.” Uncle Max took a few tools out of the bed of the pickup.
“See those tailings over there?” Uncle Max pointed to a mound of dirt covered with grass, mostly weeds.
“Yeah.” Josh said, peering intently.
“We’ll start there.” Uncle Max started for the mound.
Josh swung a pick into the ground and heard a metallic clank. Taking a shovel, he dug around a huge gold nugget. He picked up the huge piece of mineral in both hands and put it in a wheelbarrow.
Picking up the wheelbarrow he ran down the hillside to a town. There he ran into the bank and dumped the nugget on the floor.
That doesn’t make sense, he thought. That’s too heavy for me. He tried to clear his mind. He knew a large gold nugget was too heavy for him to pick up.
A wheelbarrow? Why not put it in a pickup bed? Things weren’t making sense.
“Josh! Josh! Can you hear me?” The voice was close to his head and very loud and annoying.
“Mmmm-hmmm.” He mumbled, feeling groggy.
“Josh! Can you open your eyes?” The voice said, more like an order. Who did he think he was? He didn’t take orders anymore.
“Josh! Try to open your eyes.”
This guy was really irritating. He didn’t want to wake up. This was the best rest he could remember.
“Josh! Open your eyes.”
“Why!” He demanded. Nobody could tell him what to do any more. He didn’t have to get up if he didn’t want to.
“Josh! You need to open your eyes. NOW!”
“Alright! Geez! A guy can’t even sleep!” He was angry now.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. The light was bright, and it hurt. Clenching his eyes tight shut, he put a hand over his face and tried again. He was able to open his eyes a little and let the light filter through his fingers. His eyes slowly became accustomed and he was able to remove his hand.
Around him stood a man in a white lab coat on his right side. Next to him was a young slender woman who was looking intently at him, holding his hand. On the other side was a middle-aged man and woman. The woman held his left hand.
“Mom?” He asked the young woman.
“Yes, dear.” The woman on his left answered.
“What?” He said weakly.
“Josh.” The man in the lab coat said. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Uh. I think it’s April 1991.” His voice sounded funny to him.
“We were afraid this might happen.” The man in the white coat said to the others.
The two women began crying and the man looked concerned.
“How old are you?” Asked the lab coat man.
He thought for a minute.
“I’m 10 years old.” His voice sounded strange.
“Josh.” The lab coat man said gently. “I want you to look at your hands.”
Looking at his hands held by the women, he saw big adult hands. He was confused. His hands weren’t that big. Looking at where his feet were under the covers he saw where gown-up feet would be.
“But…” He had no words. Confusion washed over him. He felt like someone had put him in a body that didn’t belong to him.
“This is going to be difficult for you, Josh. Try to stay calm.” Lab coat man said. “It is 2019. You are 28 years old. You have a severe head injury from a fall. You also have several other injuries. You got pretty banged up. It will take a few months for you to recover physically. However, you have partial amnesia from your head injury. That could take longer for you to recover.”
He looked at the lab coat man in disbelief.
“Doctor, is he going to remember?” Asked the young woman.
“It’s hard to say.” The Doctor said thoughtfully. “Time will tell.”
“Who are you?” He asked the young woman, timidly.
“I’m your wife, honey.” She said sweetly, squeezing his hand.
“I’m your mother.” The older woman said soothingly. “And this is your father.”
He felt numb. He wanted to run away, but with two women holding both hands and being surrounded in the bed, he didn’t stand a chance.
“What happened?” His voice quivered.
“You were prospecting with Max and you fell into a sinkhole.” His father said.
“Max called 911.” His wife said, sniffling. “You almost died.” She sobbed and squeezed his hand with both of hers.
“With physical therapy, you should regain your strength and agility.” The Doctor said. “He will need your support and encouragement.” The Doctor directed his attention to the people around the bed. “With time his memory could return. His military training has helped him. Most people would not have survived this ordeal.
“When can I go home?” He asked to no one in particular.
“In a few days.” The Doctor said. “Right now, you need to start getting re-acquainted with the people who love you.”