[2009-08-17] Grandfather Story (Patient 100950)
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I watched the small gray pebble bounce against the rocky terrain, and after a few moments spent struggling against gravity, falling back down and coming back into contact with my swinging foot and starting the cycle over again. I had been kicking the pebble up the hill for the past few minutes, having grown bored of the long and laborious uphill trek. Just about half an hour had passed since the bus had dropped me off on the side of the freeway. I unfurled the map in my backpack and gazed at it, my finger sliding across the glossy paper, trying to find my bearings. After a while, I was able to match the white barn I could see in the distance, about two hundred feet in front of me, to a small illustration on the map. I put the map away and turned to look at the undulating hills before me - verdant, plentiful, surreal slopes that appeared almost fantastical.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ A thick fog had slowly descended upon the area, gradually enshrouding more and more of the landscape as I kept walking. The fog was much thicker where I was, at an elevation, than it had been back where the bus had dropped me off. In the distance, I could just about see a line of trees swaying gently in the breeze, the entrancing movement of the leaves and branches against the picturesque view of the green hills and bright orange sunset sky. I could see the sunlight glinting off the roofs of a few modest homes in the distance, which resembled cattle barns, attached to vast fields that stretched out for what seemed like miles and dwarfed the houses they accompanied.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I’d been trekking up the hill for a while now and the road had transitioned into somewhat of a dirt trail, and the houses behind me slowly slipped further and further into the ever-growing fog that continued to envelop the surrounding hills. The fog had caught up to me and was obscuring the path ahead, cutting my visibility significantly. It seemed hungry, almost greedy, like a living thing as it wrapped around the lush hills, eager to envelop them completely and hide them from view.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ The fence that had guided me up the hill had reached its apex, ending with a final intricately carved, ornate post that brought back various distinct memories. The steep terrain seemed to have plateaued as I reached the peak of the hill. Extending before me was a small meandering trail that my eyes followed up to Grandfather’s house standing in the distance, small and cozy, with a steady stream of smoke billowing out through the chimney. The house was surrounded by swirling wisps of fog and mist that scattered the warm, inviting light seeping through the slits of the shutter of a single pane window, illuminating the field outside with a yellow glow. An open gable roof crowned the square house and a withered, rusted wind vane looked over the modest porch and small wooden door that marked the end of the path.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ My heartbeat quickened and I felt beads of sweat forming on my brow, stinging my skin in the biting cold. I wiped them away, rubbed my clammy palms against the dirty denim of my jeans and took a deep breath as I stepped onto the porch. From here, I could see the wear and tear the house had weathered through over the years; the paint was peeling and chipping off the wooden planks and small cracks ran through the wood that I remembered being well-cared for. I flinched as the porch creaked loudly under my boots. Another deep breath. I slowly raised my fist to the door and wrapped my knuckles loudly against the hardwood thrice.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I could almost hear the distant sound of paper and cloth rustling from deep within the house, followed by an all-encompassing silence. I glanced down at my watch and followed the minute hand as it made its way around the silver watch face, the ticking growing louder with each passing second. My peripheral vision caught sight of a moth that was fluttering around the porch light and I curiously watched its chemical infatuation with the photons emitted by the old tungsten bulb, following the moth’s sporadic flight path around the bulb with my eyes. I shifted my body weight, shuffling my feet anxiously and raised my hand to knock on the door again when I was interrupted by the faint noise of wooden chair legs squeaking against the old, worn-down planks of the floor, followed soon after by slow, lumbering footsteps that grew closer and closer.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ The door slowly creaked open, the hinges squeaking from the effort. Before me stood Grandfather. He raised his gaze, his solemn, beady eyes locking onto mine as if he was peering into my soul. After several suffocating seconds that seemed to last an eternity, a faint smile formed across his face. The man before me could only have been about five and a half feet tall, much shorter than I remembered him being. I could easily see the top of his head and the head of hair he had once been so proud of, now reduced to a few scattered strands holding onto a wrinkled scalp.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “It really is so great to see you,” Grandfather said, his arms outstretched, motioning for me to hug him. I bent down and awkwardly wrapped my arms around his fragile frame, feeling the rough texture of his wool sweater rub against my skin.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Yeah, it’s great to see you too…” I mumbled, “That walk up the hill really is no joke, huh?”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Well, there aren’t too many days I find myself making the trek downhill anymore,” he sighed in response, patting his knees, “I forget how hard it can be sometimes.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ He looked me in the eyes again, “Thank you for coming. It means a lot to me, really. It’s really important that you are here.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ My eyes darted away, scanning the landscape, desperate to break eye contact, “Yeah, of course. I don’t mind too much, the landscape is so beautiful… It feels nice to get away from the city every once in a while.” I peered into the distance, through the thick fog, trying to catch a glimpse of the houses I had seen in the distance on the trek up. “The fog really does its hardest to cover up all the scenery though, huh?”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “There is great beauty in the fog, just as much as the green hills,” Grandfather replied softly. I didn’t really understand what he was trying to say but I decided not to contest his thoughts on the fog; I was too tired from all the walking. “Come in, please,” Grandfather said, stepping aside, and inviting me into the house.
[Door swings open]
Personnel 1: You’re doing great. Let me know if you need anything.
[Door closes]
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Uh, yeah, so I stepped through the doorway as a warm blanket of air gently rolled over me and my eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the warm light that softly illuminated Grandfather’s house. It was pretty reassuring. I turned to the source of the orange light, the fire in the fireplace crackling, spitting up sparks, across the room from me. Two worn-down sofas, the fabric creased through repeated use, faced the fireplace along with a small kitchen table covered with what must have been hundreds of letters, away from the rest of the furniture.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather gently nudged me forward and walked me to one of the many rooms in the house. It was a modest spare bedroom, furnished with nothing other than a bed that was definitely too small for me, and accompanied by a bedside table dresser. The thin layer of dust that evenly covered every surface of the room confirmed my suspicion that this room hadn’t seen any use in a while. A warm glow filtered through the shutters and lit up the room with horizontal beams of light, the sunlight bleeding through the valleys and nooks of the mountains as the sun completed its journey across the sky. I slung my backpack off my shoulder and tossed it onto the bed, turning to follow Grandfather out into the living room.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather made his way to the kitchen counter, hobbling around the table placed in the center, and reemerged holding a little steaming cup in his hands. “I poured you a cup of tea,” he beckoned, holding the cup out to me.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Oh, thanks,” I replied as I sat down on one of the chairs around the kitchen table. I pushed a singular brown box and a stack of letters aside, nudging them between a keyboard that had grown worn with age and an old computer monitor to make room for the cup. Grandfather’s eyes scanned the table and turned away, embarrassed. “I’m really sorry about the mess… I haven’t been able to find the time to tidy up…” he mumbled, apologetically.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I really don’t mind,” I chuckled back at him.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather leaned back against the counter, and I could see his frail figure, now properly illuminated by the small light placed next to the kitchen sink, I was shocked by how old he looked. “I remember the last time you visited. How long ago was that now, four, five years ago?” he asked.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Four. It was four years ago. I came to visit you… and Olen.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Ah yes,” he mused, “that must have been just around the time Olen moved in.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Yeah, it was right after,” I replied, placing the warm cup down on the table and turned to gaze out of the window beside the back door, “I don’t remember there being so much fog, I mean, you can’t even see ten feet in front of you.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Well, to some the fog is intrusive, and to others, it is quite beautiful. It serves a greater purpose than the green hills it rolls over every night, yet I believe they live in harmony, complementing each other perfectly. That’s how I see it, at least.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I guess…” I replied, not really knowing what to make of Grandfather’s reply. “But if I stepped out right now and put my arm out in front of me, I wouldn’t even be able to see my hand.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather abruptly turned to the back door. “Follow me,” he said. Grandfather’s hands trembled as he slipped a key into the keyhole on the doorknob and turned it with an audible click. He pushed the door and it creaked loudly as it gradually swung open. Outside the door lay an expanse of impenetrable darkness. The stark difference in temperature was startling. I instinctively wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck as a cold wave of air hit me like a freight train. Grandfather stood on the small porch and stared out into the abyss of misty, swirling, cold darkness. Apart from the fog, only visible when a few scattered beams of light would spill out through the open door, the house was completely shrouded in darkness.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ We stood together, silently, for about a minute, bathing in the little moonlight that got through the fog. An eerie stillness hung heavily in the air. Then I heard it. A faint, rumbling low-pitched hum coming from all around us. I spun in a circle, trying to find its source but I couldn’t, it was almost as if the sound was coming from everywhere at once. The more I focused my attention on listening, the louder the sound grew.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I turned to Grandfather, slightly worried. “What is that?” I asked, “That… that noise, that faint humming, what is it?” 
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather didn’t say anything, his eyes fixated on the swirling mass before us.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Grandfather,” I urged, with an urgency in my voice, “what is that noise?”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “It’s the fog,” he replied, matter-of-factly, “I like to call it Garden. I hear it most nights, living up here. It’s quite soothing, really.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I, uh, I don’t remember this noise from the last time I visited,” I mumbled, nervously, “I mean, I remember the fog, but the noise… I feel like I would have remembered something like this.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather didn’t respond for a moment and continued to stare into the vast darkness. Finally, “Well, it used to come and go but these days I hear it every night, and well, it’s as loud as ever.” He paused. “If I’m being honest, it keeps me company, in a way, ever since Olen was relocated to the foundation,” he sighed, “I hope it doesn’t bother you too much.” He finally looked away from the fog and turned to walk back into the house.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I slowly trailed behind him, closing the door behind me and fastening both locks. I slowly unwrapped my scarf and slipped my boots off. The dried mud flaked off the rubber soles as I put them down next to the door with a soft thud.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Well, it’s time for me to head to bed. We can talk more tomorrow,” Grandfather said, hobbling over to the small lamp in the corner of the living room to turn it off.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Yeah, thanks for having me,” I smiled at him, “Goodnight, Grandfather.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Of course,” he smiled back, “feel free to sleep in.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I woke up in a cold sweat to a low rumble that I could feel reverberating throughout the room and through my bones. I could hear the hum through the window. The noise washed over the house in waves, enveloping it and ringing through every crack and crevice in the wooden planks. It was as if a circle of speakers encircled the house, blasting the humming through the walls and over the hills. It was far louder than earlier. I shifted in the uncomfortable bed and buried my head under the pillows, trying my hardest to block out the noise. I tossed and turned, trying to block it out, clenching my teeth for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the noise subsided and I slowly drifted off to sleep, wondering what the hell had just happened.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I opened my eyes to brilliant beams of sunshine flooding through the dirty panes of the window, flooding the room with light, and the sound and smell of bacon crackling on a pan wafting in from the living room. “Sunlight,” I whispered to myself, my mind racing, trying to make sense of the events of last night. The bright rays of sunlight shining through the window meant that the fog must have dissipated in the early morning. I glanced down at my feet which were stinging in the cold and noticed that I had kicked the covers off my body at some point in the night, leaving them bunched up against the bedpost at the edge of the bed. I sat up and picked up my watch. It was well past noon. I must have been more tired from the long walk than I thought.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I looked through the door that was slightly ajar and noticed a plate of hot, steaming food placed on the kitchen table. The steam brought to my nose the inviting aroma of freshly cooked bacon and eggs. I groaned as I got up off the bed, my calves aching with the effort. I stepped out into the living room, expecting Grandfather to welcome me but he was nowhere to be found. A quick scan of the house told me Grandfather had ventured out, his absence couldn’t be too long due to his limited mobility at his age, but the verdant slopes glistening with the fresh morning dew were enough to draw anyone out of the house at this time.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather slowly pushed the door open just as I had finished eating and was scrubbing the plate clean. He looked at the table and noticed that I had arranged his letters into neat piles while he was gone, his eyes widening a little. He wiped his shoes off on the mat, turned to me and smiled, “Look who finally decided to wake up! I hope you liked the bacon and eggs just as much as you did when you were a kid.” He motioned towards the table, “I guess you’ve really grown up, haven’t you?”
I laughed and replied, “I did enjoy it and no, I haven’t grown up, not really.” I chuckled, “Thanks for the breakfast. I hope you enjoyed your walk.”
He turned to look out the door, the rays spilling over the edges of his silhouette. “Yes, well, there aren’t too many days the sun shows its face to us this time of year, and the physician said regular, short walks will help my knees,” he replied, shielding his eyes from the sun with his fingers, “How’d you sleep?”
“Not great,” I replied honestly, “is the humming noise always that loud? It woke me up in the middle of the night… it was deafening. Do you sleep through that every night?”
“I guess I’m used to it now, and my hearing really isn’t what it used to be. It’s just background noise, like TV static to me now.” Grandfather walked over to the couch and settled down with a deep sigh.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Well, I guess I’m just confused because I don’t remember hearing this noise the last time I visited, even though I remember the fog,” I pressed on, tired of Grandfather’s vague answers.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Things change,” Grandfather replied curtly, “I’m kind of tired so I’m going to go take a nap. You should go walk around the hills, you don’t get to see sights like these in the city.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I silently nodded, a hundred thoughts flashing through my mind, the principal of which was why Grandfather seemed to be avoiding my questions about the fog. I gathered up my boots, slipped on my jacket and wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck. I stepped through the front door, feeling my skin tingle under the warm sunlight that spilt over me as I stepped out the back door. I mentally mapped out my route and set off, down the same path I had taken when I had walked up the hill last night. This time, however, I was able to take my time admiring the hills that stretched on for miles and miles, unfettered by the thick fog. They felt intentional, in a way, like they had been plucked from an illustrated fairytale book and placed aesthetically, designed to please any eye that looked at them. A broken, sporadic line of tall fire trees that graced the landscape at regular intervals and were completely lost in the fog last night was visible now in its absence. The view before me filled me with energy and lifted my spirits, especially after the bizarre happenings from the night before.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ As I strolled, I remembered the time I walked the trail with you four years ago. You’d updated me on your life back then, living here with Grandfather and showed off your extensive knowledge of the surrounding geography. I remember I was surprised at how quickly you’d learnt the terrain like the back of your hand. You could pinpoint the beginning and end of every mapped trail, every pretty little waterhole, every small forest and every vantage point from where you showed me the most breathtaking views. You told me you had so much spare time on your hands that you’d even learnt how many minutes it would take to walk from one hill to another, one trail to the next. I remember that time you and I walked so far down the trail, and we took so long to get back that we ended up scaring Grandfather. Do you remember how much he yelled at us when we got back, so late at night? I felt my eyes stinging a little and I rubbed them quickly before the tears started welling up.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I made my way down a hill north of Grandfather’s house and felt a chill in the air. I looked around and saw the fog slowly encroaching once again; I had expected the fog to start rolling in around the same time it had the day before but it had showed up far earlier. I decided to head back before the fog got thicker. Just over two hours had passed since I left. I trekked along, watching Grandfather’s house grow from a small speck uphill into a familiar sight, the backdoor now finally within reach. Inside, Grandfather was sitting at the kitchen table, engrossed in the letter he was perusing, his hands shaking as he jotted down notes on a small piece of paper that seemed to have been hastily ripped from a spiral-bound notebook next to him.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ The door creaked open as I entered and the sound startled him. Grandfather looked up, adjusting his glasses and quickly folding the letter with his shaking hands and slipping it, along with the small paper he’d been writing on, into the envelope it had come from. “You were gone for quite a while,” Grandfather said, screwing the cap of his fountain pen shut.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I forgot how surreal the hills are. I followed the trail Olen and I used to walk along and I guess I kind of got lost without him here to guide me. I mean the greenery all looks the same after a while,” I replied, slipping my dirty boots and jacket off and walking over to the chair across from Grandfather.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “How’s Olen doing?” Grandfather asked as I sat down.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Fine, I guess. It’s been, what, three or four months since they hooked him up to that machine? I checked with the foundation. They said you haven’t visited him yet,” I said.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Well, it’s just been hard to get a chance… Not to mention the fact that I can barely make it down the path these days,” he replied, “It doesn’t feel like four months have passed already…” He trailed off as he stared out the window. The fog had already covered the mountains on the horizon that I had been staring at only a few minutes ago.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I could help you get down there to see him,” I offered, “I’m sure he’d love hearing your voice. The doctors say that any form of communication is beneficial for him and that he’s still able to interpret everything happening around him, but I’m sure you already know all that.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Yes, yes, yes, I know all about the process,” he said, a touch of irritation in his voice, “You’re right, I do need to make the trip down to the foundation soon.” He paused. “I would need to coordinate with the foundation, to make sure the timing is right for Olen, and their schedule, of course.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “The foundation,” I scoffed, “We should be able to visit him whenever we like, it’s- it’s- it’s ridiculous, actually. The best thing for him is to be in a hospital and to be around family, not scientists putting tubes up his nose and mouth and sticking wires to his body and head so they can transport him to life2 or whatever they call it.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ We sat in silence. I could feel the blood rising to my face and I clenched my fist until my knuckles turned white. “At the end of the day, he is in a coma, and- and- they can give it some stupid fancy name like life2 but it doesn’t matter, he’s still in a coma. He isn’t conscious in our wor- the real world! To be honest, I don’t think they’ve done a single thing that’s helped Olen, not one thing. You know what I think about the pretentious people at the foundation, and you know I begged for him to get proper, conventional coma treatment from the very start. Olen being at the foundation makes me sick to my stomach!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather sat in silence for a moment, watching the patterns created by the whirling fog outside the window. “I hope you can make peace with Olen’s current situation someday. Your support is important. Dr. Elkins is special. She has a plan for Olen.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “I’m sure she has a plan for Olen,” I snapped back, tired of Grandfather’s blind trust in the foundation, “I’m sure she’ll do her best to exploit and invade his mind, take advantage of him and leave him out to rot. I’ve done my research.” I got up from the table, unable to control the anger that was bursting out from deep within me. “The thing they call life2? That shit is best left untouched. They’re going to use Olen as a fucking guinea pig! It’s wrong!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather remained calm. “I see the process the foundation uses to conduct their research as therapeutic. It doesn’t put Olen in harm’s way at all, it eases his mind-”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “You don’t know that!” I cut him off, “You really think I don’t know anything, huh? I know about the girl, Agnes- something or other! She died! While under their care! You don’t think that puts Olen right in the middle of harm’s way!?” I was exasperated. I couldn’t believe Grandfather’s adamancy. “I don’t care about their claims of it being a freak accident and I don’t care that she was in a vegetative state! It still happened and it happened last year! I don’t understand how they haven’t been sued into bankruptcy yet!”
[Door swings open]
Personnel 1: You're a bit worked up, how about we take a break?
[Footsteps swiftly follow behind]
Personnel 2: Dr. Witt! It’s fine! Let him keep going.
[Door closes]
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ … Anyway, uh, Grandfather finally looked at me and raised his voice in response to my outburst. “Dr. Elkins knows what’s best for Olen, far more than me or you. Agnes Ladner’s death was out of the foundation’s control, child. Do you not think I spoke to Dr. Elkins about the accident? We’re talking about my grandson here. I would never put him in a situation where his life would be at risk,” he said sternly.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Oh really?” I scoffed. “Olen somehow fell into a coma while he was under your care, while you were supposed to be taking care of him!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “And how was I supposed to prevent that? I did my best to care for my grandson but some things are out of our control,” he said, his tone becoming more hostile, “I loved Olen, I’m his grandfather for Christ’s sake!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “And I’m his brother!” I spat out, “He is in harm’s way and you’re too fucking blind to see it! I did my research and nothing you say can change my mind. I know all about the gates and Eldwin Gonzalez. I don’t know why you didn’t ask me before admitting him to the foundation, you had no right to decide that all on your own! You were so quick to do it, you didn’t even get approval from other doctors, real doctors! Whatever the foundation is doing isn’t real medicine, it isn’t real healthcare!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Believe in Dr. Elkins, trust in her brilliance and her foundation. The research they’re doing is vital! It could bene- no, it will benefit all of us!” Grandfather yelled out. Before he could continue, he broke out into a hoarse, raspy cough. He reached out for the glass of water on the table, his whole body shaking, racked by a coughing fit. He raised it to his wrinkled lips and took a sip, the cup shaking in his frail, bony hands.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I waited for him to put the cup down, the interruption having calmed my nerves a little. “I need some air,” I said coldly, as I walked past Grandfather and threw open the door. I turned to face him, “I don’t care about life2 foundation, I don’t care about the gates, I don’t care about any of the research they do. I care about Olen. I know he may never wake up, but I will never accept the foundation using him the way they do. Ever.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I sat on the wooden planks of the back porch for a while, rocking my body back and forth by shifting my body weight, deep in thought. The humming noise seemed to have started up while we’d been arguing. It was actually soothing to some degree, maybe Grandfather had been right about that one thing. Night had fallen and the thick fog had set in. The green hills and trail that led downhill had disappeared completely. I desperately needed to let off some steam but any respite a walk could offer me was outweighed by the very real risk of getting lost or hurting myself in the fog.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I took a deep breath in and rose from my corner on the porch, prepared to go back into the house. I had managed to cool off somewhat but my stance on Grandfather’s opinions and thoughts remained unchanged. I walked into the kitchen and noticed Grandfather seated on the couch, surrounded by a tall stack of old letters. His undivided attention was devoted to opening what looked like a brand-new envelope, the soft glow of the lamp beside him illuminating his shaking hands as he ripped through the paper. He turned it over and let the contents of the envelope, a single sheet of paper, fall into his lap. He held it up against the light, the paper creasing from his tight grip.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “… Grandfather,” I managed.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ After what felt like an eternity of silence, Grandfather slowly lowered the letter and gently took his reading glasses off. Another dry cough escaped his throat as he carefully folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and placed it atop the stack of letters next to him. He looked up at me, his attention finally shifting away from the letters. “You’re finally back… I waited for you,” he mumbled softly, voice strained. His demeanor had changed completely.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ He paused, massaging the bridge of his nose, where the glasses had been resting a few moments ago, with his index finger and thumb. He blinked a few times, “I’m heading to bed now, we can resume our… conversation in the morning. I’ve had a long day.” I watched in silence as he slowly got up off the couch and turned the lamp off. He slowly started making his way towards his bedroom.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Why?” I asked finally, as he was walking past me, “Why did you ask me to come here?” He stopped abruptly in his tracks. “I don’t understand…”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ After a long pause, Grandfather cleared his throat. “Garden is here for me,” he uttered softly.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ The hum from outside was deafening and overwhelming in the silence. Grandfather stood still, leaning against the door that led to his bedroom, his back towards me. Every conversation with Grandfather left me more confused and frustrated. “I don’t understand,” I said, “Garden as in the fog?”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “Goodnight,” he replied softly, opened the door, slipped in and closed it behind him.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I woke up in a cold sweat again, this time to the rattling of the window just above the bed. Just like the previous night, I had kicked the covers off me and they hung off the edge of the bed. Suddenly, my senses made me aware of the noise. The humming wasn’t just loud, this time it was piercing. I felt completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t breathe, my eyes began tearing up, and my ears hurt. They hurt badly. I scrambled to sit up in bed, yanked the shutters up and threw the curtains aide to look out the window, but the fog was so thick I couldn’t see anything except my reflection in the glass.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I cupped my ears with both hands but they did little to stop the piercing noise that was reverberating through my whole skull. I rolled off the bed and stood up, fully awake now. I kicked open the door, my hands glued to my ears. The living room was completely black and my eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the dark, the vague forms before me transforming into the silhouettes of a couch and table. I ventured further into the room, the relentless shrieking noise growing even louder as I approached the open back door. I couldn’t fathom why Grandfather would choose to be outside at this hour, in the cold, surrounded by the unbearable noise.
“GRANDFATHER!” I yelled, as loud as I could through the door. I could barely hear myself over the blaring ringing and knew that my voice had been drowned out by the noise as soon as it left my mouth. I wrapped my hands around my body in an attempt to stave off the cold, having decided that they were better suited to doing that than unsuccessfully shielding my ears. I darted through the house, to Grandfather’s room, desperately hoping to find him inside. I knocked once, hard, with all my strength, my knuckles stinging from the collision. Without waiting for a response, I pushed the door open and stopped dead in my tracks. The room was completely empty - no bed, no closet, no drawers, no lamp, nothing at all, a vacant space, consisting of bare wooden floorboards coated in dust, blank white walls and a singular pane window; the room looked like it hadn’t been used in months. I felt my heart in my throat, beating through my chest as a chilling panic ran through every nerve in my body. Where had Grandfather been sleeping? Where were his belongings? His clothes? His bed? His whole life? My mind was racing faster than it ever had and it couldn't make sense of anything. A cold dread washed over me and I broke out into a sweat.
I slowly took a few steps back, out of the room, spun on my heel and ran to the back door. I poked my head out through the frame and scanned the outside. It was even darker outside and my eyes took a few seconds to adjust again. There, on the back porch stood Grandfather, eerily still, his gaze fixed on the fog.
“Grandfather!” I screamed, “Grandfather, what’s going on? Where’s your- What are you doing!?”
Grandfather still couldn’t hear me over the noise and stood there, undisturbed, seemingly impervious to the deafening roar of the noise and the biting cold of the night. I steeled my nerves and ran to him, grabbing him by the shoulder, and shaking him out of his trance. He whirled about, visibly alarmed by my presence.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “What are you doing up!?” he demanded, “It’s past three now! You should be in bed!” I could barely make his words out over the noise.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “What are you doing?” I screamed back, “Why are you out here? It’s freezing and the noise is- it’s unbearable!”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather looked through me, his attention fixed on the fog.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ I tightened my grip around my chest and shoulders, trying to find any respite from the biting cold, my teeth chattering in the gust that was blowing my hair around in a whirlwind. Grandfather stood before me, completely still and unfazed by the overwhelming attack on the senses surrounding us, his gaze still peering into the impenetrable darkness, his expression devoid of any emotion.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “GRANDFATHER!” I yelled out once again, as loud as I could, my voice cracking, my vocal cords straining.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Still staring into the darkness, Grandfather slowly opened his mouth and began to speak, yelling over the piercing noise, “I need you to put all your trust in the foundation and I need you to believe in the work they are doing. For Olen. Dr. Elkins’ plan is far greater than you could ever imagine, child, and believe me, Olen will be saved.” He paused. “But I want you to understand the importance of Olen’s mind and body. Olen is so very important to the future of medicine. Make peace with his sacrifice, view his life as a donation, the benefits of which your generation will reap for years to come!” He coughed, his voice strained from the screaming. He was delirious, there was an ecstatic, fanatical pleasure in his eyes, even though the rest of his face was stoic.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Why Grandfather would bring this up right now, in the middle of the deafening noise, the biting cold, engulfed by the darkness completely eluded my understanding.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather slowly turned to me. “Garden is here for me, it’s been a thousand years,” he said, his face finally breaking out into a toothy grin, “If there is one thing I want you to remember, it’s that it’s always been in me, and it’s in you too.”
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ Grandfather walked past me as I stayed rooted in spot. He cautiously stepped off the porch, the wet grass crunching under his bare foot. The fog swirled intensely around the field and the humming got even louder, so loud I couldn’t hear my thoughts anymore. I fell to my knees, yelling out, my hands clasped against my ears, trying to stifle the noise however I could. I looked up to see Grandfather taking intentional, deliberate steps towards the fog and the darkness that lay beyond as if he knew where he was going. His silhouette began melting into the thick misty fog, gradually fading from view as he ventured further into it.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ “GRANDFATHER!” I screamed helplessly.
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ He continued walking into the night, his figure slowly blending with the swirling fog and darkness, growing more and more faint, fading into obscurity with each step until all that remained was pure darkness and Garden.