Riders on the Storm
Home Up Galveston

   

Book One:
A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART THREE: COLLEGE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO:
RIDERS ON THE STORM

Written by Rick Archer

 

 © 2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 93
- PAY IT FORWARD

 

It can be very unsettling to meet one's double.  Two years earlier, Mrs. Ballantyne was convinced that she had meant a younger version of herself during our parking lot conversation.  Judging by her expression, Mrs. Ballantyne clearly did a double-take as she discovered the strange details of my story in the parking lot.  She certainly never expected to be looking in the mirror when she first met me. 

At the time, I was surprised that she spent the next ten minutes telling me the intimate details of her own youth. 

Mrs. Ballantyne revealed aspects of her life one would ordinarily reserve for a close friend, not some random boy she had just met.

What would move this lady to reveal so much about herself so quickly?

I suggest that Mrs. Ballantyne felt a powerful kinship to me.  Once she realized her childhood story was uncannily similar to my own, it may have crossed her mind that there was a special link between us. 

At the same time, let me add that the childhood story of my own father was virtually identical to mine.  In the case of my father, I have no explanation for him.  Rather than develop a sense of compassion like Mrs. Ballantyne, my father went in the opposite direction.  Why he abandoned me remains one of the great mysteries of my life.

For that matter, the story of Mr. Salls contains strikingly similar elements to mine.  I suspect that if I knew more details about his past, he and I would have closely parallel childhoods. 

Mr. Salls... Mrs. Ballantyne... my father... and myself... all four of us were born poor; all four of us used education to climb out our difficult childhoods.  Not that unusual in itself, but very unusual when one considers that all three adults with such a similar past to my own were so closely connected with my life.  In a sense, the four of us were linked.  Linked by Fate?   Oh, there I go again.

During my Magical Mystery Tour, one day I read about a philosophy known as Pay it Forward

The idea is that when someone does me a good deed and I can't pay that person back for what they have done for me, the next best thing to do is find someone who needs my help down the road and pay my debt forward.   Considering the kindness of so many people who had guided me this far, I was understandably very drawn to this philosophy. 

There was no way I could ever repay these people, but I wanted to.  How could I ever settle my debt?

In the case of Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls, I believe they took a special interest in me specifically because my struggles reminded them so much of their own problems as children.  Recalling how people had helped them at the right time when they were young, they turned around and took care of me.  When they met me... they paid it forward.

Now it was my turn.

One day I found myself in a situation that gave me the opportunity to take care of someone else for a change.

 


SUBCHAPTER 94
- VICKY

 

I wasn't much of a giver when I was young.  I was too preoccupied with my own problems to worry about other people.  I imagine my self-centered attitude was very much responsible for my loneliness, but I didn't figure this out till much later.

A few weeks after the lecture given by Bob Hieronimous, I received another unusual invitation.  After Quaker meeting one Sunday morning, an older lady named Constance came over to chat.  She remembered me speaking to me after the lecture.  Now she asked me again what I thought about Hieronimous and his strange ideas.  I replied that I hadn't been able to put what he had said out of my mind.  Then I shared that I was involved in a whirlwind reading project to investigate those unusual ideas. 

Constance smiled.  She liked my answer.

"Rick, if I didn't know better, I would say you have found your path.  I have a suggestion.  Now that you are curious about the occult, why not attend a sťance??"

My immediate reaction was to frown, but then I decided it was in my best interests to stay open-minded.  I have always believed it is the highest form of ignorance to immediately reject something I don't know anything about.  Although I recall feeling very uncomfortable about this suggestion, I decided I was curious enough to have a look.  So I asked her to explain what took place and how to attend. 

After offering some background information, Constance gave me the address to a nearby row house on Greenmount Avenue.  She said that every Tuesday evening a medium named Dorothy conducted a sťance.  She told me not to afraid and that Dorothy was a friend of hers.

During my Magical Mystery Tour, I had made a silent vow to follow whatever lead came my way.  If the Beatles were willing to drop LSD and to visit India to explore the unknown, then what was stopping me from exploring the unknown as well?  I wasn't interested in mind-altering drugs, but I was open to anything else.

Previously I had met privately with a orange-robed yogi from India who had come to lecture on the Hopkins campus.  Another time I had visited a spiritual commune known as Savitria dedicated to a lifestyle based on meditation.  I began to visit a Christian-based commune known as Koininia where meditation was practiced on a daily basis.  Soon I began meditation as well.

Why stop there?  A new door had just been placed in my path.  Why not check the sťance out?

So I took Constance up on her suggestion.  Later that week, I walked over from campus to the address given me.  After knocking on the door, I was guided to a small room upstairs.  Dorothy, an older lady who was the medium, said she would conduct a meeting at which people could attempt to make contact with the dead by way of her particular psychic abilities.

As for me, I didn't know any dead people.  Since everyone I was close to was still alive, I had to be content with listening to other people try to make contact.

They turned out the lights and various dead people began to speak through the medium.  The medium gave voice to anyone from Aunt Nellie to Abe Lincoln to Saint Paul.  I was impressed by the range of voices emanating from the medium, but found myself feeling far more skeptical than convinced.  The thought that the ghost of Abe Lincoln was still hanging around one hundred years after his assassination was a little tough to swallow.  Weren't ghosts supposed to move on?

That said, I did find the experience interesting.  Considering I was terrified of death, perhaps I could find some reassuring answers here.  Since these meetings were free, I came back two more times over the next month.

No one ever spoke to me.  Each time I would leave feeling curious, but not convinced.  In general, these sťances were pretty hokey.

One Sunday morning in April 1970, I became the target of a young girl's affection. 

After the service at Quaker Meeting, I met an attractive young lady named Vicky.  Vicky was short and a bit on the chubby side.  She was clearly younger than me, but intent on distracting me enough that I might overlook the age difference.  I quickly learned Vicky was Irish through and through in both appearance and personality.  Vicky had short red hair, green eyes and a pretty round face with prominent cheekbones.  Vicky was what I would call 'perky'.  She was very sassy and liked to tease a lot.  She had a way of challenging me that I found intriguing.  I liked matching wits with her and found myself very drawn.

I joked with Vicky and smiled.  I could tell she was younger than me, but pegged her for a high school senior. Here in the latter half of my Sophomore year, I had not had a date in a year and a half.  Maybe Vicky was the answer to my loneliness.  Always open to possibility of finally landing a girlfriend, I made the mistake of getting a little too friendly on our first meeting. 

We parted with a warm 'see you next week!' 

I definitely looked forward to seeing Vicky again and I had a feeling she did too.

After the Sunday morning hour of silence the following week, Vicky and I resumed our conversation.  Vicky had obviously been waiting for this moment because she pounced on me like a panther.  Vicky was so aggressive that my instincts told me to take a step back and put on the brakes. 

Based on our previous conversation, I could tell she liked me a lot.  However, this time the intensity was stronger.  In fact, she didn't just like me, I was certain she had a serious crush on me. 

This was new.  I had never had a girl have a crush on me before. 

I could not help but recall my own powerful crush on Emily the year before.  My affection for Emily had been so strong that I think that was what caused her to back off.  I had moved too fast.  Now that the shoe was on the other foot, I could begin to see why Emily might have cooled on me.  I felt very uncomfortable.  I wanted to put my hands up and tell her to slow down. 

Why was this girl pushing so hard?

As my sense of caution kicked in, I decided to check out a disturbing hunch.  After asking her age, I learned Vicky was only fifteen.  I could barely contain my disappointment.  Good grief.  I was twenty.  Five years might not matter much if one person is twenty-five and the other is thirty, but five years was a lot to overcome at this stage.

I now viewed Vicky through a much-different lens.  Lonely or not, I had no business pursuing this girl.  Vicky was certainly attractive enough to meet my standards and I enjoyed talking to her, but even in my love-starved state I had serious reservations about adding more wood to this particular fire.

Perhaps Vicky sensed my growing reluctance and decided I needed encouragement.  She asked me out! 

Vicky asked if we could have dinner sometime.  My brain screamed no way; this was not a good idea.  Despite my desperate need for companionship, I sensed something I did not know about was wrong here.   Vicky was too hungry, too needy, too aggressive.  Vicky had a dark secret, I was sure of it. 

I could feel the gears shifting in my mind.  All sorts of walls were going up.  Vicky had activated some sort of 'big brother' instinct in me.  I now felt protective towards this young girl and not even remotely romantic anymore.  I thanked her for the invitation, but said this was a busy week at school.  Maybe another time. 

When I saw how disappointed Vicky was, my heart went out to her.  Recalling how my own vulnerability had led to so much pain with Emily, I wanted to soften the blow.  Trying to let Vicky down easy, I made a mistake and told her I wasn't dating anyone... which was the truth of course... but something that Vicky didn't need to know.    

Unfortunately, I think in Vicky's mind this remark left the door open. 

I skipped Quaker Meeting for the next couple weeks hoping Vicky's ardor would diminish some.  Then came May and I returned.  I caught Vicky staring at me from across the room during meeting.  When I saw the cow eyes, uh oh, I knew I was in trouble. 

Sure enough, once Quaker Meeting concluded, Vicky came on just as hot and heavy as before.  She immediately walked over to me and asked me to dinner again, adding "What's your excuse this time?"

She had read my mind.  At this exact moment, I was indeed racking my brain for some lame reason to say no.  Her line about the excuse caught me off guard and made me smile.

"Gotcha, didn't I?" 

Yes, she did.  If I didn't know better, she had just read my mind.

Since I had no decent excuse, I decided to accept.  It didn't have to lead to anything and I could certainly use the company.  That is when Vicky threw me a curve.  Dinner was at her house and her strange mother would be there.  Good grief.  Never in my wildest imagination did I think 'dinner' meant dinner at her house.  I assumed we would meet at some pizza place in her neighborhood. 

I groaned.  What have I gotten myself into?  I vaguely knew her mother from Quaker Meeting.  I had not been introduced to the woman, but I had noticed her hovering in the distance whenever Vicky spoke to me. In fact, I noticed her watching us now.  How could I not notice?  With her black attire, gaunt face and hollow eyes, it was unsettling to see this lady staring at us intently.   Obviously the woman knew what her daughter was up to.  No doubt Vicky had asked permission beforehand.

When I accepted the invitation, I hadn't bargained on this weird lady.  I felt very uncomfortable at the thought of spending an evening in the presence of this foreboding woman.  Her mother seemed very overprotective and surely I would come under awkward scrutiny. 

I gave it some thought. Unfortunately, it would have been very awkward to decline now.  For some reason, my presence meant a lot to this girl. I had already said yes, so I decided I wasn't going to back out. 

Nevertheless, as I walked back to campus, I strongly regretted my decision.  This poor girl was wearing her heart on her sleeve.  There was something about her aching vulnerability that reminded me again there must be something wrong. 

However I didn't dare cancel the date.  I knew Vicky was counting on seeing me and I didn't have the heart to let her down hard like Emily had with me.  So I came up with a ploy to cut the evening short.  Right before I left my apartment to pick her up, I called ahead to Vicky and said I would have to leave early since I planned to attend a sťance that night.

That was my next mistake.  To my surprise, Vicky immediately asked if she could come along.  Over the phone, Vicky said that someone had once told her she was a natural psychic.  Then she added that she would like to see what a sťance was like. 

I groaned.  I felt like Brer Rabbit and the tar baby.  Everything I did sucked me in deeper to something I didn't want to do.  How did I ever get into this mess?

With great reluctance, I said okay, come along.  I could see no polite way out.

That evening when I reached her apartment, Vicky greeted me enthusiastically with a big hug.  Her row house was an aging, run-down building that was three stories tall and extremely narrow.  Stacked side by side twelve units to a block, these row house dwellings were common in Baltimore.  Street after street was home to another set of row houses. 

Now I faced her mother who was looming on the stairs behind Vicky.  I was instantly appalled.  As usual, this tall slender woman was wearing all black.  With her long, straggly dark hair and her gaunt pale face, the woman was the veritable incarnation of Morticia from the Addams family.  I could not detect any hint of a smile as she greeted me.  With her prominent cheekbones jutting out, I couldn't help but notice the woman was downright emaciated.  The word "skeletal" crossed my mind.  This lady looked sickly and seriously unhappy.  She scared the wits out of me. 

Wondering again what I had gotten myself into, I reluctantly climbed the stairs.  I felt like I was walking into an ambush of some sort.  The second level of the home contained a combination living room and dining room.  This area was decorated in distinctively uncheerful grays and browns.  There was not a single bright color to be seen.  I wasn't sure how one would decorate a haunted house, but add a few cobwebs and this place was off to a good start.  This room gave me the creeps.

I now realized Vicky lived alone with her mother.  Like me, she was an only child.  I was on guard and I knew why.  Vicky's situation with her mother reminded me far too much of my own circumstances growing up.  I had spent four years in high school hoping for the day I could escape my mother.  Seeing that Vicky was in the same spot I had been in, memories of how trapped I felt came surging back.  I felt trapped here as well. 

As we sat down for dinner, I realized I had absolutely no appetite.  To be polite, I picked at my food.  Our conversation began with her mother asking Vicky about how school had gone that day.  Considering Vicky was desperately trying to act five years older, this line of questioning didn't help much. 

Soon it was my turn to answer a battery of questions.  The lady was very blunt in some of the things she asked me.  Rather than be offended, I understood.  The mother was being protective; she didn't want her young daughter attending a sťance with some college boy she didn't trust.  It didn't take much of an imagination to see how vulnerable her daughter was.  Vicky was easy pickings for me.  One snap of my fingers and her lonely daughter would be in my lap.  Was I someone who could be trusted?

I had no polite way of reassuring the woman that her daughter was safe with me.  How was I supposed to communicate there was not a hint of lust in my mind?  Mostly I just felt incredibly sorry for this lonely girl.  I knew exactly how miserable she had to be.

Considering that her mother was gloom personified, I suspected that Vicky must be going out of her mind.  I could not believe I had met a younger version of myself.  This poor girl was following a path very similar to my own miserable childhood. 

What a strange coincidence...

I had always thought my own mother was the most depressing woman in the world.  How wrong I was.  At least my mother could laugh.  Not this strange lady.  Vicky was surely counting the seconds until she grew old enough to leave this mausoleum.  No wonder Vicky was such a basket case. 

Despite my waves of sympathy for Vicky, I was growing more uncomfortable by the minute.  This woman reminded me far too much of my own mother.  I needed to get out of here.  So I arose and thanked Vicky's mother for dinner and her hospitality.  Then I lied about the starting time of the sťance and asked Vicky if she was ready. 

Poor Vicky... she nearly tripped trying to get out of her chair as fast as possible.  I had to suppress a smile; this girl could not wait to escape!

What had I gotten myself into?  This was without a doubt the strangest date of my life. 

Vicky's mother followed us all the way to the sidewalk where my car was parked across the street.  She beckoned for Vicky to roll the car window down. She went over curfew rules and reminded her daughter this was a school night.  Then she stared directly at me to make sure I was listening.  The woman could not possibly have humiliated Vicky any more than she did with her Mother Knows Best lecture. 

I watched Vicky's facial expressions; she just sat there grim-faced and took her mother's little-girl treatment in stride.  I was impressed with her self-control.  Vicky was much more obedient than I ever was.  I would have never let my mother talk to me like that.  I concluded that Vicky was light years more mature than I was at that age.

Once we were on the road, Vicky quietly dropped a bombshell.  Her mother was dying of cancer.  It was just a matter of time.  She immediately began to cry her head off.  Through her sobs, she explained they were conducting some sort of slow-moving death march together. 

I felt sick.  All the dread I had felt in that row house suddenly made more sense.  The Grim Reaper had no doubt been sitting in the fourth chair at the dinner table with one hand on the woman in black's shoulder.  I could not imagine how much Vicky suffered living in that dreary atmosphere as her mother's only companion.  What a brave girl.  I felt so sorry for her.  I also felt ashamed of myself.  I had spent my entire life cloaked in self-pity, but my situation was nothing compared to hers.  I couldn't believe I had met a girl whose childhood fate was far worse than my own.

My heart went out to Vicky.  If anyone ever needed a friend, she did.  No wonder she had been so aggressive.  Vicky needed a friend in the worst possible way.  She needed someone, anyone, to talk to and give her a break from that morbid home.  She felt so alone.  

Unfortunately, I had no idea what to say or do to console the girl.  I will confess that I was upset with myself.  It hurts to admit this, but I didn't know how to take care of her.  I had spent so much of my childhood alone that I could not recall ever consoling another person to any extent.  Besides, I was always the most miserable person I knew.  What did I know about cheering other people up?

Now that I had finally met someone with a tougher life than my own, I was unprepared to help.  I didn't have the slightest idea what to say.  So I just drove and listened.  I guess that was enough because Vicky eventually stopped crying. 

Then she smiled at me.  "Thanks, Rick, I needed to tell you.  It hurts so bad to see my mother wither away like that.  She cries and tells me how scared she is to die.  I try to be grown up for her, but I get so scared sometimes.  It is difficult being brave all the time when I don't know what is going to happen to me when she is gone."

I completely understood her fears.  Been there, done that.  I had met my double. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 95
- sťance

 

So now we pulled up to the row house on Greenmount Avenue.  Since we were there early, Vicky and I sat in the car and talked a while.  Vicky had pulled herself back together.  Now she was very interested in the sťance and asked me to describe it. 

Vicky reminded me that someone had told her she was a natural psychic.  I smiled politely.  If you say so. 

Finally it was time.  We were ushered upstairs and took our seats.

Now they turned out the lights.  As usual, the personality of good old Aunt Nellie spoke first.  Then some Indian spoke about the Great White Spirit.  The Indian was followed by more of the usual riffraff, Uncle Bob and Sister Mary and so on.  This was ridiculous.  I wanted to go.  Vicky's pain had made this night about as depressing as it could possibly be.  I couldn't take much more.

To my surprise, a new voice spoke out.  Someone said, "Excuse me, but..."   Then there was a pause.

It was pitch black in there, but I could tell this voice did not come from the medium.  This was definitely a new voice.  I was very surprised.  No one had ever interrupted the medium before.  Now I realized it was Vicky sitting right next to me who had interrupted the silence.  I was immediately riveted. 

Now Vicky resumed speaking. 

"Does anyone in the room know a Terry?"

I froze.  No way.  Surely not...

I waited for someone to answer.  No one answered.  With an enormous sense of dread, I hesitantly volunteered that I knew a Terry.

Vicky continued.  "There's something strange about Terry.  I think he's a dog."

Oh my God.  This cannot be happening.  But I answered nonetheless. 

"Yes, you're right.  That must be my Terry.  Terry was my dog back in Houston."

One month earlier, I had gotten a letter from my mother that Terry had died.  He was twelve when he passed away. 

I had never said a word to anyone.  Why should I?  I didn't have any friends in Baltimore that would care. 

My silence meant that no one in Baltimore had any idea that my beloved border collie had died a thousand miles away in Houston.  That included Vicky.  Terry had certainly not come up in the dinner conversation.  In fact, Terry wasn't even remotely in my thoughts.  Sorry to admit the truth, but my pressing college problems had let Terry's memory drift to the distant recesses.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Vicky's next words broke my heart.  She told me that Terry was lonely and scared in his new 'home' whatever that was.  Then she said Terry had a question for me. 

My heart stopped beating.  What?

"Terry wants to know why you left him."

A sharp dagger of pain knifed through me.  An overwhelming wave of guilt surged to the surface and I broke down on the spot. 

I began to cry like a baby.  I had been through this exact same thing with Terry the night I saw him at my house for the last time two years ago.  The pain back then had torn me to pieces.  Now the pain of having my dog actually confront me about my abandonment made the pain even more intense if that was humanly possible.  Guilt hemorrhaged throughout every part of my being.

But I had to keep it together so I could communicate.  Through the copious tears streaming down my face, I spoke into the darkness. 

"Terry, I am so sorry.  I had to leave you to go to college.  Please forgive me, I beg you.  I love you, Terry.  Oh, my God, do I love you.    You are the best dog and the best friend I ever had in my life.  I love you so much."

And then I couldn't take it any more.  I couldn't speak.  I just cried and cried and cried.  My guilt was unbearable.

To her credit, Vicky continued.  Vicky said that Terry had been heartsick without me.  Vicky added that Terry felt better now and that he had begun to wag his tail.  Vicky said she could see him right in front of me.

I groaned.  It was pitch black in here.  I wanted to see the ghost of my dog in the worst possible way, but how could I?

Without having any clue what I was doing, I involuntarily stuck out my hand to pet my dog.  I felt nothing but cold air.  I saw nothing, I felt nothing, I heard nothing, and I sensed nothing.  This made it very difficult to believe the ghost of my dog was actually before me.  This was beyond bizarre. 

Maybe it was bizarre, but nevertheless Vicky insisted Terry was right in front of me. 

I couldn't speak, but I listened carefully to everything Vicky said.  All I could think was that this couldn't be happening.  There was no way this was happening.  But through my misery and guilt, I summoned whatever strength I had left and spoke again. 

"Vicky, please tell Terry that I will always love him.  Tell Terry that I can't see him or talk to him, but that he can visit me any time he wants and that I will know he is near."

Vicky said that Terry had heard me and seemed very happy.  I just kept crying.  The guilt refused to let up.  I could not bear the thought that my dog had suffered so much due to my abandonment.

And with that the medium retook control of her sťance.  Vicky stood up and bent over to put her hand on my shoulder.  She whispered we should go.  I wholeheartedly agreed.  In the darkness, we stumbled towards a dim candle next to the door and left.

I collapsed in my car.  Vicky sat silently beside me while I cried.  It took a quite a while before I could compose myself enough to drive. 

Vicky suggested we get an ice cream, but I told her I was too shaken for that.  I preferred the darkness of the night.  On the way back to her row house, I tried to make sense of what had just happened.  Naturally I wanted to be sure this girl had not played a trick on me.

I took account. I barely knew Vicky.  And Vicky barely knew me.  She certainly knew nothing of my past whatsoever.  I'm not sure if she even knew that I was from Texas.  Racking my brains, I could not imagine how she would know my dog had recently died.  It certainly wasn't part of our dinner conversation.  For that matter, Terry had not even been on my mind.  How could she read something in my mind that I wasn't even thinking about?

At my request, Vicky described Terry's appearance to me very accurately after we left the sťance.  She named his three colors of fur... mostly black, brown nose with a hint of white. 

Then I tried to trick her.  "Was he a small dog?"

"No, Terry was pretty big with lots of fur.  Terry had long black hair."   She had me convinced.  That was Terry.

As we drove, I told Vicky how grateful I was for that unbelievable gift she had given me.  It wasn't often that a boy gets a chance to visit with his dead dog.  To tell the truth, once I got over my shock, I was glad I had this chance to talk to Terry.  I had been miserable at leaving him behind in Houston.  At least I had gotten a sense of closure no matter how sad it was.  I was glad I was able to tell him I loved him.  That meant a lot to me.

I prayed there wasn't some kind of trick here.  I try to be open-minded, but I was very worried about being gullible.  I had not one shred of evidence beyond what Vicky had claimed had taken place.  I had no choice but to take Vicky's word for the entire experience.  

I am not the most trusting person.  Everything boiled down to Vicky's credibility.  What possible thing did she have to gain by playing a preposterous trick on me?  As I took another look at this wounded, vulnerable young lady, she didn't seem the type to be playing sick jokes on people.   She struck me as a decent human being trying as hard as she could to cope with her difficult life. Recalling her own considerable tears that night, I didn't think Vicky was any mood to play games.

I concluded Vicky was on the level.  Furthermore, I could not even imagine how it could be a trick.

So now my mind drifted back to Terry.  Had I really spoken to the ghost of my dog?  I wished so much I could have seen something.  If tonight was real... and it certainly had felt that way... maybe Terry could stop hanging around me and move on to the next level of existence. 

This evening had been far too traumatic for me... Vicky's misery over her mother's impending death, the frightening appearance of that poor woman with the specter of death hanging over her, memories of own mother, the ghost of my dog, and this young girl's incredible ability to visualize the world of the dead. 

Let me be blunt... I was terrified by this all-out assault on my sense of reality.  This evening had the presence of Death and I was fearful.

Vicky had some sort of access to a spooky world I feared and did not understand.   For the first time in my life, I realized why people are afraid of things they don't understand.  Was Vicky some sort of witch?  I shuddered at the thought.  She didn't seem dangerous, but now I was afraid of her.  This girl had powers I could not comprehend.  Did she have the ability to read my mind?  For that matter, what other shocking things Vicky might subject me to if I continued to hang around her?  Was she going to introduce to the Realm of the Dead?  Was I ready for this?  No way.  I was terrified of her unseen world.

I was also afraid to take on this poor girl's incredible loneliness. 

As far as I was concerned, I wanted to get as far away from Vicky as I could.  I just could not bear to face any more of the unknown right now.

Therefore as we approached her house, I explained to Vicky that I wouldn't be at Quaker Meeting next Sunday.  I was starting a summer job in Virginia in a few weeks and needed to go down this coming weekend to look for an apartment.  This was a fib; I already had my Virginia apartment rented for the summer.  But I wanted a face-saving reason to avoid seeing this girl again, at least not for a while. 

Tonight's adventure into the world of beyond was much more than I had bargained for.  I needed a chance to steel my nerves.

Vicky took this news in silence; she clearly wasn't happy about my disappearing act.  I wondered again if she could read my mind.  If so, then she would know what a coward I was.  

At that point, a mysterious feeling came over me.  I stopped the car. 

Vicky looked at me.  "This isn't my house."

"Yes, I know.  Don't be afraid.  I want to talk to you."

I had just been hit with an overwhelming sense of guilt. 

What in the hell was wrong with me? 

This young girl didn't have a friend in the world, yet all I wanted to do was get away from her because she scared the wits out me.

Vicky was just as scared as I was.  I had to be the world's biggest jerk to leave her like this when she was frightened and vulnerable.

A deep sense of shame flooded my consciousness.  Running from my irrational fear was the wrong thing to do.  I was better than that.

Now I took a deep breath. I had just realized I had a job to do.  So I began to give my best 'Mrs. Ballantyne' impersonation.  In fact, I probably used some of the lady's exact words from two years earlier.

"Listen, Vicky, you don't know much about me, but I grew up with intense hardship.  Like you, I was an only child with a mother who was lost in her own world.  My mother wasn't able to care for me and I had to grow up much too fast for my own good.  I stumbled every day, but I got back up and I made it this far.  I survived my childhood and so will you. 

You have to be brave for your mother and I recognize how hard this must be.

But I promise you things will work out for you.  You have so much love in you and you have so much going for you.  You are so far ahead of me at a similar age. 

This is a terrible phase that you are facing, but you will make it to the other side.  I am certain of that.  Your life will get better so don't ever give up.  You have too much to look forward to."

I did a good job with this pep talk.  I could see Vicky was listening to me with the same concentration as when I listened to Mrs. Ballantyne two years earlier.

Through soft tears, Vicky nodded.  What I said had reassured her.  I had given her exactly what she needed.  We talked a while and I answered her questions about my past.  She was curious to know about my struggles with my mother.  Now I offered some of my life story the same way Mrs. Ballantyne had offered hers.

The underlying message was the same... If I can do it, so can you.

Vicky was fascinated to realize that she wasn't the only person to ever be trapped in a depressing home.  That was a real comfort for her.  I could see the tumblers of her mind at work.  Yes, if Rick could do it, maybe she could too...

When Vicky seemed strong enough, I started the car again.  Soon we pulled up to the curb of her row house.  Worried sick that her mother might see her crying, she hurriedly dried her eyes.  I smiled at the feeble effort.  The poor girl was so rattled she didn't realize her blouse was soaking wet.  I could only imagine what her mother would think of me for making her daughter cry. 

As I watched her, I thought of my own crying spell that evening.  Weren't we a pair?  We had both had quite a cry tonight.  Two unfortunate people trying to find their way through difficult lives.  No wonder Vicky was so drawn to me.  Somehow she must have known we had something in common.  Maybe it was that uncanny sixth sense of hers that had perceived our connection.

As we sat in the car, I could see her sad mother watching us through the second floor window above.  I could not help but think how ghost-like the woman's appearance was.  It was like she already had one foot in the grave.  No doubt the grim reaper was standing right beside the woman.  He was impatient to claim his next victim. 

I shuddered in fear.  What is death?  What happens to us when we die? 

I had never been anywhere near death before in my life, but tonight I felt surrounded by it.  This evening had scared the absolute wits out of me.  I was totally intimidated.

Vicky got out of the car.  She stopped at her front door and turned around.  Vicky gave me the strangest look.  I could almost hear her calling to me, "Rick, please don't leave me."

A huge surge of guilt raced through me.  She was praying I wouldn't abandon her to this situation, that I would give her some hope.  I hated myself for being such a coward.

This had been a rough night for both of us.  We were two lost souls that had connected for this one brief moment in time.
I did not envy Vicky.  Her lonely ordeal would not be easy. 

I watched as Vicky turned to greet her mother.  The door slowly closed.  Vicky was on her own again. 

"Riders on the Storm.  Into this house we're born, into this
 world we're thrown."   --
 The Doors

 


SUBCHAPTER 96
- REFLECTION

 

I never saw Vicky again. 

I spent that summer working at Uncle Dick's data processing center in Arlington, Virginia.  When I returned to Hopkins to start my Junior year, I wasted no time visiting the Quaker Meeting.  I was disappointed to see that Vicky wasn't there.  After making some inquiries, I learned that Vicky's mother had died and that Vicky had moved to another town to live with distant relatives.

I regretted this sad news for all sorts of reasons.  I had given this strange experience a lot of thought that summer.  For one thing, I had several questions to ask Vicky about Terry.  I also wanted to apologize for being such a coward that night.  I was stronger now and wanted to console her further if possible.  I wanted to see how she was holding up.

I wanted to speak with Vicky for another reason.  Over the summer, I had come to a strange realization.  I had been so lost in my own fears that it never dawned on me that I had overlooked perhaps the strangest coincidence of all. 

All summer long I had wondered if perhaps I had been chosen to play a role in Vicky's life similar to Mrs. Ballantyne's role in mine. 

Was it possible the unseen world had sent me to Vicky to bolster her at a time of great need in the same way the unseen world had once sent Mrs. Ballantyne to my side? 

There was a clear parallel.  Mrs. Ballantyne had once been shocked to discover she was talking to a boy who had a background nearly identical to her own.  Then she turned around and rescued me from despair. 

Now against all odds I had met a young girl who walked a path nearly identical to my own.  To my surprise, I had suddenly realized Vicky needed me in the same way I had once needed Mrs. Ballantyne.  I had tried to take Vicky under my wing and encourage her just like Mrs. Ballantyne had bolstered me.  After meeting me, had Mrs. Ballantyne recognized my great need?  Did she help me, a lost soul, for the same reason that I chose to help Vicky, another lost soul?  I would imagine so.

Mrs. Ballantyne surely recognized my pain and her heart went out to me.  Thank goodness I had found the same empathy within me.  Talking to Vicky like I did was the first truly decent thing I had ever done for someone else.  Too bad I had been such a coward.  I wished that some day I would be stronger and I could do better.

I also wondered if I had been drawn to Mrs. Ballantyne when I was a young boy in the same way Vicky had been drawn to me.  Maybe we are drawn to certain people for reasons we are not allowed to understand. 

Mr. Salls immediately came to mind.  I recalled how I was mysteriously drawn to Mr. Salls in a way totally different from any other instructor at St. John's.  I simply couldn't take my eyes off of him. 

What about Mr. Salls?  It wasn't until much later in my life that I would learn Mr. Salls grew up as an only child living with his mother with little money and little future on the remote island off the coast of Maine.  Did he feel trapped too?  Was it possible he had been driven at the same age as me to escape a dead end future? 

Did Mr. Salls know we were kindred spirits?  Was there an unspoken connection between us?  Did Mr. Salls watch me in German class knowing full well that I radiated the same hungry intensity as he did when he was young?   One can only wonder.

Mr. Salls - Mrs. Ballantyne - Rick Archer - and Vicky.  Broken homes, loss of parents, loneliness, not much money, looking to education as the best possible escape route...  the parallels in our lives gave us a very strange bond. 

Now my mind drifted back to Vicky.  Thanks to that strangest of nights, over the summer I could not help but think I had played a brief but important role in Vicky's life in much the same way as Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls were meant to play a role in my life.  

There seemed to be so much more to this world than I could possibly understand.

Unfortunately, with Vicky gone, we would never be able to compare notes.  It didn't matter.  I had already made up my mind.  I was certain I had been chosen by the unseen world to help this young lady. 

I concluded it had been my karmic duty to "Pay it Forward".

There was an interesting side benefit to my strange experience with Vicky.  Following the sťance incident, I understandably became even more curious about the occult.  I spent the entire summer reading more about Edgar Cayce.  Whereas my previous interests had been Astrology and Reincarnation, my interests began to shift.  I found what I was really drawn to was how Edgar Cayce had helped all those people through his Readings.  The more I read about Edgar Cayce, the more I realized I wanted to contribute to the world. 

This shift had begun the night I had my talk with Vicky.  There was something about my time with Vicky that had awakened an intense desire to help other people.  Call it my spiritual awakening. 

My Sophomore year of college had been characterized by loneliness and depression as I wallowed in self-pity.  Now that I had met Vicky, I realized things could actually have been tougher than I had ever imagined.  Okay, I had problems, but they weren't insurmountable.

My experience with Vicky had somehow elevated me.  Thanks to Vicky, I had finally learned the value of caring about someone else for a change.  I decided to become a better person. 

After reading about the thousands of lives that Edgar Cayce had touched, it crossed my mind that my time could be put to better use helping other people as well.  To my pleasant surprise, the main outcome of my adventure into the occult had been the development of a social conscience.  Maybe it was time to quit feeling sorry for myself and begin to find ways to contribute. 

On the same morning I learned that Vicky had left Baltimore, I also discovered there was a day care center at the Quaker Meeting. 

On the spot, I volunteered to help one afternoon a week.  It was a start. 

I would continue my reading project for another solid year.  One day to my surprise and delight, I read where Edgar Cayce confirmed the existence of animal souls.

Cayce said there is a phenomenon known as 'soul progression' where humans progress through many incarnations.  Cayce added the same thing is true for animals.  Cayce added that close contact with humans accelerates an animal's progress. 

Wouldn't it be nice if Edgar Cayce was right?  I would like to think that my years spent with Terry helped my dog fast-track his own spiritual path. 

Lord knows Terry was not only incredibly smart, Terry had a loyalty within him that was profound.  I sometimes wonder if Terry was put on this earth to take care of me.  For the nine roughest years of my life, Terry was my constant companion.  Terry was the best friend I ever had.  I would have never made it without him.

The 1970 incident involving Terry remains the only paranormal experience of my life.  Unfortunately, since I have no psychic ability of my own, I have no way of knowing what really happened that night.  Whether I was visited by the actual ghost of my dog I do not know.  In the darkness, I saw and heard nothing.  I felt nothing but cold air.

All I can say is that the incident unfolded exactly as I have written and I do not believe Vicky had any reason to trick me.   Something highly out of the ordinary happened; that much I am sure of. 

Although I cannot personally attest to the existence of an afterlife, the sťance experience with Terry gave me a firm reason to consider an unseen world.  Who knows?  There might indeed be more to what we call 'Reality' than meets the eye.

 


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: GALVESTON

 

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