The family that lived at the edge of the oak forest kept away from the town folks and rarely interacted with their neighbors. One of the townsfolk might catch a glimpse of one of the children talking to forest animals or see the children climbing trees. Sometimes in passing conversation some peculiar circumstance might be mentioned but in general everyone thought it best to mind their own business.
Mr. Wolfe and his wife took two walks per day, one at daybreak and the other just after the sun set and stars were beginning to pop out of the dark canopy of night. Some of the townspeople suggested that Mrs. Wolfe was an artist and Mr. Wolfe was a writer but no one bothered to ask or do any research. The guesses were true and they were well known in some circles. Mr. Wolfe was also a character actor appearing in many minor roles. In the big city their names were occasionally mentioned in the society pages but in their small town they were just normal people with abnormal children.
Mr. Wolfe owned a mom and pop mini mart five miles from their house and a mini storage facility next to town. Although many said the Wolfe family was rich the family was careful with their money and bought forest land which they donated to the U.S. Forest Service.
Things didn’t always go well for the family. Because the children had ongoing problems in school, Mrs. Wolfe, after teaching three years, decided to stay home and take care of the three boys and one daughter.
In their younger years the four children were hard to describe. They seemed to blend in with every kind of scenery or scene. When class pictures were taken the Wolfe children never were in focus or were hidden just out of the picture. Newcomers to the area might ask, “Where’s Johnny? Or where is Abigail?”
After a few days the newcomers didn’t ask anymore because the regulars would simply turn away glassy-eyed and ignore the question. It was said that Johnny and Abigail could hide in shadows or cracks in the walls. Of course that was nonsense, or at least it couldn’t be proven.
The two younger brothers, Justin and Phillip, were even harder to explain and even harder to ignore. Their movements were quick and their voices too loud for indoor activities and the Wolfe house couldn’t contain their restless activity.
Outdoors the children were at home, especially when they were in shady areas or partial darkness. When twilight drew near and nocturnal animals were shuffling about, the two boys became restless, energized and alert. On nights when the full moon swallowed up the sky, the two younger brothers roamed the countryside, and went racing about, carefree and wild.
Both smiled constantly, but if they felt threatened or saw someone bullied, their demeanor changed. The smiles changed to snarls and the fight was on. On several separate occasions bullies challenged Phillip and Justin but the battles were always short. A whirl of motion here, a snap and a growl, and the bullies were on their backs, pleading for mercy. Although it didn’t last long, peace reigned for awhile.
When they were in their twenties they appeared suave and sophisticated. All of them had been exposed to stage and cinema and were anxious to see if the thespian life was their calling.
Johnny and Abigail took small parts hoping the roles would expand. Justin and Phillip were not sure they wanted to be actors so they held back.
Justin learned a lot about himself while protecting others. After the first time he had come to someone’s defense, Justin wanted to be a deputy keeping law and order. In his opinion every person deserved equal treatment.
Phillip, the most unusual of the four, had special qualities. Everyone believed he had ESP because he had the uncanny ability to look at someone and know his next move. It was thought that Phillip could track any animal across rocky terrain or across bodies if water. Phillip knew his abilities but he let people think his powers were unlimited.
Once, during search party training exercises, Phillip demonstrated what he could do. It was recorded on film by a deputy and verified by several others.
“Philip bent low to the ground, took a quick sniff, tilted his head back and howled, long and blood-curdling. He then proceeded to track a mountain lion to its den.”
The Wolfe family had long been fans of the Theatre and claimed they had several well-known relatives, one of the most notable being Virginia Wolfe. Abigail had taken voice lessons and seemed destined to be a star but bright lights frightened her. Even after therapy she seemed blinded and unsure of herself. She was the first Wolfe to face disappointment in acting.
Johnny, the next in line, was accused of pawing several leading ladies. His chance to become a leading man was diminished. He was ruled out of future productions and became the second disappointment.
Justin seemed a shoo-in for the role of a leading man. Handsome and well-liked, Justin wanted to be the hero and win the lady’s heart. However, in his first role the leading man was a villain. In Little Red Riding Hood Justin wanted to transform the wolf into a good Wolfe. His request was turned down and he dropped out of acting to begin a career in law enforcement.
Phillip finally tried out for a part. He wasn’t trying to make it big, but merely get his foot in the door. He learned his lines quickly and easily. Becoming too involved was his major concern. Could he actually lose a stage fight or give up a fair maiden? It was difficult but he managed to stay out of trouble.
Around town, trouble seemed to haunt him. Usually he sat by himself, away from groups, just watching others and studying their mannerisms for future roles. One night he drifted into a small bar located just off the main part of town. He was sitting quietly on a stool sipping a margarita and listening to country songs. The band was good but not great. There was a change in rhythm and intensity when a lady with a bass guitar took charge. She was good. Phillip was impressed as her fingers danced across the strings and the music came alive. After a series of songs she stopped and beckoned to Phillip.
“I need a drink,” she said into the microphone. She leaned her guitar against the wall and out of harm’s way. “Are you going to buy this girl a drink?’ she asked as she sidled up to Phillip. Her gray eyes watched closely, measuring his slightest reaction.
“My pleasure,” he replied. “Bartender, give the lady whatever she’s been drinking. Just put it on my tab.”
He stood up and scooted his chair towards her. “Have a seat and rest your weary bones.”
It was evident to Phillip that men rarely treated her like a lady. She blushed and said, “I’m Kristine. I’m glad to meet you.”
Phillip got up slowly, extended his hand, and said dramatically, “I’m the Lone Wolfe, the only one fortunate enough to meet a beautiful lady like you.”
The bar was crowded and the room was warm. There were only a handful of women and the men were frustrated and growing meaner by the minute.
“It’s hot in here,” she announced. “I need cool air.” She fanned herself for effect and then started towards the door. Glancing at Phillip she asked, “Well, are you coming or not?”
The situation was strange and Phillip knew instinctively that something was wrong. The hair on the back of his neck had risen. Still, he was curious if this was a set-up.
“Of course, darling. It’s cool outside and the moon is full and beautiful. It’s something to howl about.”
“You’re just too funny,” Kristine said. “Now tell me who you are and what brings you here tonight.”
“Phillip. That’s my name. I just wanted to hear a good band and relax. It was a bonus when I saw you.”
She led him to the parking lot before she said quietly, “I think you’re a narc. We don’t like troublemakers around here.” She wouldn’t be alone and confronting him like that.
A slight sound caught Phillip’s attention. “I think we have company.”
In the shadows several men hurried towards them. Phillip mentally noted five men, all large and muscular.
Kristine moved away from him. “Goodbye, stranger. You should have stayed in the country.”
Phillip moved swiftly at the edge of moonlight, becoming both shadow and reflection. Phillip knocked the first two down easily with jabs to their throats. He was too fast and elusive. “Is this a ghost we’re trying to catch?” one man panted. He circled them, attacked, and destroyed their confidence. In short order he left them huddled in the middle of the parking lot, whimpering and shivering.
Phillip strolled through the door and sat down. He ordered a drink. Kristine stared at him in surprise.
Phillip raised his glass. “Here’s to you. When your friends recover tell them that not everyone is a pushover.”
Phillip’s reputation as a fighter led him to new roles. Before long he had several roles in martial arts films playing alongside Buck Morris and Mackie Shan.
From the Tehachapi Mountains into the valley I drove at a steady but cautious pace because I was both excited and tired from the long journey. I was determined to remain positive as I passed brown sun-baked grass and dried up orchards. Town after town flew by, few of them thriving or prospering, and it shook my confidence.
What did I have to look forward to? I remembered the words of my brother. “There will be no rent . Just take care of the place. Everything is in tip-top shape. You won’t need anything.” Those promises were comforting as I prepared to collapse and relax when I finally stopped in the drive-way of my new home.
I had already inspected the house and grounds so when the moving van arrived, workers I had hired were ready to unload. Everything I had was unloaded with care in the hopes nothing was broken there.
While furniture was set up in designated locations I mused over discrepancies in what I expected and what was reality. The house was not in good shape. The exterior had recently been painted blue and looked nice but the interior needed some repair. The bathrooms were my biggest concern because minerals in the water had corroded the copper lines and the shower heads were plugged. The toilets were so rusted out they needed to be replaced. Throughout the house major cleaning was necessary along with minor repairs.
Outside, the yard was enormous and green. Then I saw the fruit trees and stared openmouthed. “This is a Garden of Eden!” I stated emphatically. There were peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, persimmons, oranges, grapes, pears, figs, and more. I thought, “This is where I can begin a new life.”
With over three acres of orchard and lawn the house had to have a name. “Green Acres” was a fitting name because I was from the city learning country life over again. It would be like the TV series and it would be fun.
During the first week I celebrated each time I emptied a box and put its contents away. The pile of empty boxes grew taller until one day I flattened them out and took them to the recycling center. I was trying to do my part in the recycling effort.
I planted a garden in my spare time. Hot days, warm nights and water brought rapid growth. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and watermelon were soon thriving. I eventually got a bumper crop of tomatoes but the rest of the produce? The rabbits and ground squirrels had their way. But that’s another story or two.
With trepidation I set out across country, driving towards the sunset. After months of wrestling over what to do, my destination was set, my mind made up, and now I was on my way. One hour passed and already I was waffling. “What if I can’t do this? I’m not ready for such an undertaking. I should wait until my life improves.”
I stopped for coffee and took a few deep breaths. “I can do this. One mile at a time, one city at a time, and one day at a time and I’ll be there before my mind rebels again.”
“Uncle Dan, what did you want to be when you grew up?” My nephew’s words tore into me, reminding me of people who had stood in my way urging me to do sane sensible things. “Go out into the world and get a real job!” “Do something useful.” “Working for a living is honorable.” Not one of my friends or relatives told me to follow my heart or pursue my dreams. In fact, one of them scoffed when I said, “I want to write poetry and short stories. I want to describe the world.” “There’s no money in writing,” he said. “It’s a waste of time,” said another. “Who has time to read?” My nephew looked at me curiously. He was still waiting for an answer. What could I tell him? I began as I believed I should, honest and straight forward. “I always wanted to be a writer and I waited until now to begin.” In the early evening Cicadas were saturating the air with a steady din and it continued even after the stars began poking through the black velvet sky. I’d listen and try to imagine a far away planet where strange creatures buzzed about giant cities. As the animal kingdom came to life small animals in desperate flight raced to stay ahead of their pursuers. The chasers were relentless. A scream, then silence. Another hunter had made a kill. The actions were out of sight and sudden, but I could imagine even the smallest details. My thoughts would drift back to space where my other world existed. My imagination was rife with possibilities. Were larger animals chasing smaller prey just like the ones I knew about, or did the smaller animals control the larger ones? My dreams were filled with stars and planets and my travels were swift. After hours of dreams, I would wake early in the morning. I would bounce out of bed, get dressed, and go outside ready to be immersed in new adventures. But sometimes my dreams didn’t stop on time. “Danny, wake up! You’re wasting time. There are animals to feed and chores to do.” My brother’s voice stirred me to action. A few minutes later the cows were contented again, eating oats and hay. The pigs were fed and after scattering corn for the chickens I went inside and cleaned up for school. I could hardly wait to tell my friends about the sounds of night and my imaginary planets. As part of our seventh grade English class Miss Brown often let us decide what we wanted to write about. Then she looked directly at me. “Nothing about planets and stars or stories about aliens or animals. Write about things you do during the day.” I wanted to protest but I knew Miss Brown would stand her ground. Many times she had told me, “Write about the things you know, not the things you imagine. Start over, Danny, and this time please follow directions.” After many attempts at describing real things, Miss Brown and I finally agreed upon a compromise. If I wrote and satisfied her requirements, I could write sci-fi and fantasy stories. In order to get my needs met I had to write more. Although my production increased, the quality of my writing didn’t. “Your writing isn’t good enough,” Miss Brown told me. “Don’t quit your day job.” At conference time she told my parents I daydreamed too much. “I don’t think he can be good enough to become a successful writer. Guide him towards the trades. That’s where the money is.” Throughout high school my teachers reminded me, “Very few authors became famous. Many of them suffered through bouts of depression. Some died young and others died poor. You have some potential but get a job that pays a steady income.” In college writing was on a collision course with literature. One professor ranted, “Read every story seven times and squeeze it for meaning. Otherwise you’ll never learn how to write.” Because of him and other like minded souls I decided that newspaper writing was the way to achieve success. But times were hard and over the next ten years several newspapers folded or consolidated for financial reasons. Jobs were hard to find and harder to keep. “Get out of the newspaper business,” a crusty old reporter barked. “Writing doesn’t pay very much but it steals your soul.” By then I had become an English teacher, although I still freelanced for small magazines. I continued to produce articles just for my vanity. I was not the only educator who dabbled with poetry or stories. Education was packed with aspiring writers with distinguished backgrounds. “You’re nothing special,” I was told. “Other writers are ten times better than you.” I joined writing groups but even there the news was grim. “If you submit your stories or novels to publishers, expect to get rejection slips. Even the famous authors were rejected enough to paper the walls of their houses.” Years passed and technology changed. Now older and wiser, I decided to write for fun and to entertain. If someone actually liked what I wrote, it would be good for my self-esteem. I became a blogger. There were a few followers but mostly I wrote for myself. I wrote stories and poetry but I didn’t really know how to entertain. I didn’t know how to add music and color. All I had was words. As I look back I still have not achieved my goals nor have I satisfied my soul. I still write because I want someone to understand that life is more than video games and TV. Perhaps I also write because I want to learn more before I die. As I write, my understanding becomes deeper and sharper but I think I’d have to be immortal in order to become a good writer. I still have so much to learn and so much to describe. Life is real. Life is earnest. Life is too short. I looked at my nephew. “I’m still growing up,” I said. “I’ve only changed on the outside.”
“Four tomatoes for a dollar! Four tomatoes for a dollar!”
I watched as eager customers hurried towards her. The tomatoes looked ordinary, yet people were patiently waiting in line. In reality I guessed it was not the tomatoes that drew people to her booth, but her own ability to mesmerize crowds by her mannerisms and antics. I studied her more closely as I looked for signs of magic or hypnotism.
A small crowd gathered at the downtown farmer’s market listening and watching every move. Her voice floated down the aisles, “Four tomatoes for a dollar!”
At first glance I saw nothing unusual. Her features did not demand attention. She had short brown hair, a pleasant smile, and a mature body with generous hips and breasts. In this part of the world that was common. But what was different? I listened closely. Her voice had a distinctive ring to it. When she spoke, everyone stopped what they were doing and faced her.
Her eyes searched everyone, looking for the bravest and the most curious. The group wiggled and squirmed as if they were on a hot plate. “I’ll take some,” a small woman shouted. “Perhaps they’ll make me taller and more beautiful.”
No one suggested that there was no chance for that. They were caught in the moment, believing the tomatoes were magical. The crowd surged forward, pushing and shoving and the tomatoes sold quickly.
Even I was spellbound before I woke from my stupor and bought the last basket. “Beware of the fourth tomato,” she whispered. “It’s very special. You’ll see,” she stated ambiguously.
Since her tomatoes were gone, she waved goodbye to those who were still milling about. Her words continued to echo inside my head. “You’ll see. You’ll see.”
As evening approached the fourth tomato seemed to emit a red glow but the glow faded and was soon gone. It had to be my imagination. But when it was completely dark the vendor’s words returned. “Beware of the fourth tomato.”
Eagerly I bit into the first tomato. Nothing happened. No genii appeared and showered me with money. No magic carpet appeared and I didn’t get smarter.
I stuffed the second tomato into my mouth. Juice splattered everywhere, running down my chin and onto my shirt. Still nothing. “This is disappointing,” I murmured.
I sliced the third tomato and nibbled each piece daintily. If I showed I had manners, maybe magical powers would descend on me. I waited patiently, but just like the first two times nothing happened.
“Every tomato in this basket looked the same. The first three tasted like ordinary tomatoes. How could the fourth tomato be any different?”
I had already eaten three tomatoes and I didn’t feel like eating another one. I started to throw the tomato into a dumpster but small movement caught my eye.
An old woman staggered from behind a bundle of rags and cardboard boxes. She motioned me closer. “Please, sir,” she croaked. “Give me your spare change so I can have one last meal.”
I didn’t want to give any money away. Did she think I was some kind of fool? Quickly I said, “You’re in luck. I have a special treat for you. See this lovely tomato? It’s magic.”
I placed it in her hand and walked off, feeling pretty smug with myself. I didn’t have to share my money and I could feel charitable after giving the tomato to the old lady.
“Sir?” The woman’s voice was different. “Sir-r-r-r-r.” she purred. “Please come back.”
I turned around and gasped. The old woman wearing rags had changed into a beautiful young woman, her shapely form revealed even in the darkness.
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
“Sir, you gave me a tomato. I took a bite and here I am.”
That was my magic tomato! I snatched it from her outstretched hand and took a big bite. Juice squirted in several directions. If the fourth tomato could change the old woman, it could also change me. Expecting immediate results I danced in front of her. “How do you like me now?” I croaked.
Something was wrong! I was not young and athletic. My legs wobbled and my balance was off. I stretched out my hands. They were wrinkled and old. What had the tomato’s magic done to me?
I faced the young woman. “I love you.” Why did I tell her that? The words spilled out of their own volition. I had no control of what I was saying or doing.
“Get away,” the woman shrieked. “You’re hideous. I don’t know you. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
“Please let me explain,” I said hoarsely.
She continued to back away, her eyes wide with fear. I stood still, confused by all that had transpired. We were both different and I didn’t like it. How could the magic be undone?
But the magic was still at work. As dawn’s first tendrils of light reached into the darkness, energy poured into my body. My youth was returning. I raised my head to give thanks.
Even as I grew younger and stronger, the young woman was aging. “I love you,” she whispered. The magic was returning both of us to our original state of being.
But as before, I was wrong. Every morning and every evening our lives changed as we passed each other in youth and old age. We were put together by magic and the outcome was already set. There was nothing to do by accept our fate. I grew to love her frailties and she mine. We thought it would be until the end of time. But I was wrong.
I would like to say we lived happily ever after and that would be partially true. But that’s not how magic usually works. It teaches a lesson.
In a dream I was given a choice, a choice that left me in a quandary.
Sweat dripped profusely from my brow. Once I decided what I wanted there would be no turning back. What should I do? Would my choice be “Old woman during the day/young woman at night?” Or should I choose “Young woman during the day/old woman at night?”
The dream was as real as it could be. I knew things would never be the same. I awoke still undecided. But while I lay there an arm flopped across my chest. Startled, I opened my eyes. Next to me my wife lay peacefully dreaming. She looked younger today than yesterday.
I slipped out of bed and walked into the bathroom. I glanced into the mirror. I had gotten older.
I returned to bed but this time my wife watched me with interest.
“I had a dream,” she said. “We were both old and young at different times. I was not comfortable being separated from you. I realized that I’m enjoying growing old with you.”
My worries about growing old were forgotten. I just needed to enjoy my life every day, morning and evening, and take life as it came. I pulled her close. “I love you,” I said simply. Being young or old didn’t matter as much as loving each other just the way we were. Life would always be good if I kept that perspective.