Readers, although it can, and probably most likely will, be read by most as a single story, it does take place in a world I created where many characters appear... and disappear... in a much larger universe.
The idea for this short story came to me one day while sitting by the pool at a Las Vegas resort and a friend of mine showed me the smart phone application called GRINDR. Although I consider myself knowledgeable of most new technologies, I had no idea that people were connecting more easily than ever, and using incredible technology in the process!
As we sat there by the very crowded pool, I was amused that within 250 feet there were guys looking to hook up and have some fun. We were even able to spot a couple of nice looking gentleman who we were pretty sure matched the profile pictures. There they were... right there for the pickin'.
Within a few minutes I had one of those `what if...' moments and the idea for this story popped into my head. My `what if' thoughts tend to be on the darker side, and it took a few months for the idea to get out of my head. However the idea did stick, survive, and found its way out of my head, into my fingers, and onto this keyboard. It also allowed me an opportunity to take a familiar character from my universe a not so nice guy at all that you hope you never meet even in your worst nightmare... and insert him into this simple little side-story.
My friend did eventually connect with one of the guys at the pool, but that is another story... Enjoy!
HENRY DIDN'T WANT THE CELL PHONE, but his little girl insisted. Well, she wasn't exactly a little girl anymore, all grown up now, but she'd always be his little girl. She said she worried about him, and even after admitting that she knew she shouldn't worry, and he could take care of himself, she knew how to get her dad to say yes to pretty much anything if she set her mind to it, and she wanted her dad to take the new cell phone she was holding out to him.
"You're here all alone, all day, and you could be out in the fields or the barn, get hurt and then what? The Westcott's are over 10 miles away. You think if you go and break your leg out in fields that you're just going to be able to yell loud enough and someone will just come running?"
"I've been able to take care of myself just fine my whole life. As a matter of fact, I think I've been able to take care of things around here pretty good lately considering the circumstances, don't you think?" He gave his daughter a smile that usually provoked one in return, but it wouldn't be the case today.
"Daddy, I call and you don't pick up. I call back after a few hours and I still don't get an answer. You don't even have an answering machine. Don't you know how worried"
"And I've always been fine," he stopped her, his voice rising more than he had expected. "You never worried about me like this before. You know I can't be at the house all day. For 18 years I've walked out that front door every morning, tending this farm, and you never worried, not one ounce. Now out of the blue you act like the whole world is on the brink of falling apart and I'm going to be right in the middle of it screaming for help."
He took a few breaths, calming himself a little, seeing the look of worry in his daughter eyes get worse, not better.
He continued. "Just because you aren't here, Darla, doesn't mean anything bad is going to happen to me. I'm not an old man yet. Heck, you know I just turned 50, so why are you treating me like I've got one foot in old folk's home and the other is wondering off in the woods getting lost."
Darla, the best thing he had ever made in this world, looked at him and he could tell by the look in her eyes that her concern for him was real. The whole cell phone thing was more than he had originally thought. She didn't start to tear up, but he had seen her come close many times and he knew she was barely holding onto her composure. As he saw her lips begin quivering, he knew why she had suddenly gotten so worried about him, even before the words came out of her mouth.
"Because momma's gone." She didn't say anything for a few seconds and let that one sink in a bit... and it did sink in as she watched her father's head drop just a little, his eyes now scanning the tops of his boots.
She reached out then, touching his hand, and his annoyance with her insistence that he just take that darn cell phone began to melt almost immediately.
"You may have left the house every day, but mom was still here. I might not have been able to talk to you, but she always let me know how you were doing. So now when that phone rings... and no one picks up, I just can't help but think of you being here all alone."
He looked at his daughter and realized that she probably wasn't nearly as worried about him as she claimed; she just missed having someone from the home she grew up in to talk to. And when that phone rang, and no one answered, maybe it wasn't him that she was hoping would pick up that phone. Every time that phone rang and no one was there it just reminded her that her mother would never be answering that phone again.
He held on to his daughter's hand, and pulled her just a little closer so he could look down into her face, into those eyes that were so like her mother's.
"Alright, I'll keep it." He hesitated, thinking what to say next. "Especially since you already signed me up for some contract from hell that's gonna cost me an arm and a leg if I want to get out of it." He then pulled her close, hugged her, and for a few seconds he never wanted to let go.
Every day he woke up, the bed empty beside him, and he started another day alone. He sometimes felt a loneliness deep inside his gut that felt like it had not only died, but was rotting away and taking other bits and pieces with it in the process. He stayed busy, stayed focused on his work, stayed focused on the farm, and he managed. He managed. As he held his daughter, he realized that even though he was doing his best to cope, that too many times he forgot that he wasn't alone in his loss. He may have lost his wife, but Darla had also lost her mother, and if it meant carrying a damn cell phone around all day so she could reach out and talk to him so she could manage, well then by golly he would just take the cell phone.
He pulled back, saw a slight smile on Darla's face, and looked down at the foreign object in his hands.
"I don't even know how to use one of these things. You know I've never owned a cell phone."
Darla tilted her head, and gave him that look that said, don't bullshit me.
"Dad, don't be going and playing all dumb on me now. I know that combine you bought two years ago has a computer on it that's more complicated than even I could ever begin to figure out. There's an instruction manual in the box. You know how to read, so read it."
She was right. Although he played dumb, with most things gadgetry, he also enjoyed learning how most things worked to the point where if there was a button, or a function on a piece of machinery (even a cellphone), then by golly he was going to figure out what it did, regardless if he needed to use that option or not.
"Well, I guess I could give it a try. But first, how about you make me some of momma's corn fritters. I've been hankerin' for some for weeks. I think I was even dreaming about corn fritters just the other night. I woke up in the middle of the night and I swear I smelled `em."
Darla smiled, nodded, and headed to the kitchen. Conflict ended.
Darla stayed the night and she did indeed make her momma's famous corn fritters, and then in the morning, after a bittersweet goodbye, she hopped in her car and drove away, her dad remaining on the porch, not moving, watching the trail of dust stirred by the tires and the wind, as her car disappeared down the dirt road that led to highway 14. When the car had disappeared completely, Henry remained for a few minutes, looking down the road long after when there was nothing to see but the few oak trees that lined the road and the birds flying back and forth in that way that made it look like they just had nothing better to do, and then he walked inside, shut the door behind him, and heard the silence that he had become so familiar with since his Sarah... his dear Sarah... had passed away.
He thought he had better at least plug the darn thing in, knowing that before Darla even arrived back in Lincoln (a good three-hour drive) that she would call him. He unwrapped the adapter and plugged it in next to the toaster, and then found the small slit on the side of the phone that had some hinged thing that covered it up.
Damn these things are small, he thought as he tried unsuccessfully a few times before the little metal part of the adapter finally slid into the phone and the face of the phone suddenly lit up. Darla had written down the phone's number on a piece of paper and he took a chip-clip magnet from a drawer and snapped it against the fridge where he knew he wouldn't lose it. He doubted if he'd be giving the number to anyone, but he knew that someone eventually would ask if he had a cell phone, and now that he had one he could at least should try to remember what the number is.
He sat down at the kitchen table and started to read the instruction manual, which at first he thought would take forever due to its thickness, until he realized that the manual was in at least 6 different languages. It took him less than 30 minutes to get the gist of the thing and when he was done he actually was able to surprise Darla by calling her first. She was still an hour out from home traveling on the interstate. He could tell by her voice that she was happy that he wasn't going to be as stubborn as she imagined he would, and that'd he'd use the phone if it made her feel better.
Heck, maybe having a cell phone wouldn't be that bad after all.
The cell phone box had come with a clip that he used to attach the phone to his belt. It soon became part of him, part of his routine, and it became habit for him to plug the phone in at night, and then in the morning he would clip it to his belt. His daughter did call, often, and if she had been worried before, she appeared to have less concern now. Whether he was working in the barn on his machinery, or out in the fields inspecting the yield, he found he actually liked the occasional ring and the temporary break in his day as he talked with his daughter.
It was during one of these phone calls in the field when she told him that she and her husband William were having a baby. Her little girl was going to be a mother. He was glad he was out in the fields alone as no one would have been able to see the tears roll down his cheeks. He kept his voice composed but he doubted his daughter didn't notice the few times he went silent, choking up as she told him the news.
It had been two days since his daughter had given him the news that he would soon be a grandfather. He had climbed out of bed smiling each day, realizing that life indeed does go on. He had wondered if he would ever feel this level of happiness again after so many days when his mind had convinced him that everything he knew about life, and its many unknown purposes, had come to a screeching halt. It had been two years since his wife had died and now sitting in his favorite wooden rocker, he watched as the sun went down, the reality that he was going to be a grandpa sitting with him as fine as rain. He sat on the porch and looked over the fields as the sun slipped lower, until it eventually began to disappear piece by piece, like the biggest and brightest of all golden dollars slipping over the edge of the earth.
He went back into the house and picked up the phone his daughter had given him. At first he felt like he'd surprise her and give her a call, but he changed his mind when he started to once again fiddle with the many functions the phone had continued to surprise him with. He had learned that this was not just cell phone, but also a smart phone. A couple of weeks ago he would not have known the difference, but his curiosity had gotten the better of him and soon he learned about the different applications that he could download onto the phone.
At first he discovered the different financial applications, including one for his bank. After installing it and playing around with the different features he soon found that he actually liked being able to pay his bills with just a few clicks on the phone, instead of pulling out his checkbook, mailing the bill, etc. He had known this technology existed, but his wife had been the one with the pen in the family. After she was gone he knew how to pay bills, manage expenses, and even keep to the budget, but he wasn't ready to jump into anything new at that time. It was just easier to keep doing things the same, and also brought back good memories, remembering his wife sitting at the small desk and shuffling through the bills and paperwork. When he found himself sitting at the same desk, trying to keep everything straight, it reminded him that she was no longer there, but at the same time it felt good to sit there, doing what she used to do so well.
On most days he was so tired when he got back to the house that it took all he had just to make himself dinner, let alone play around with a new gadget, but there were nights when watching the TV, or listening to the radio just didn't peak his interest and he'd reach over and explore the applications on the phone, which he realized numbered literally in the thousands.
He quickly realized he was not a games person. Shooting birds at pigs? He just didn't get it. There were also a lot of news applications, but at his age he was having a hard enough time just reading a newspaper, let along reading words off a screen no bigger than a deck of cards. He realized he could get on the web with his phone, but the speed was horrible, no doubt due to him living practically in the middle of nowhere.
Then he discovered the social apps.
Even alone, with no one around, he felt embarrassed as he read some of the application descriptions. It seemed there was an application for everyone into everything. He wasn't a complete fool when it came to human desires, and he didn't think of himself as a very judgmental man, but things had definitely changed quite a bit since he was a young man. He even found himself chuckling to himself as he read some of the group descriptions: women who liked to dress up like school girls and get spanked when they were a bad little girls; men who had cravings for licking women's toes that bordered on fanatical worship; and his favorite, men and women who liked to get together to do nothing more than cover themselves in food and then proceed to eat said food off each other. There was a group for everyone, he thought.
He did notice that there wasn't a group for men who lived alone, who had recently lost a loved one, and were just learning how to cope day by day. The groups that he read seemed to be people who already had more than they needed, and still found something lacking in their lives and wanted more. There was nothing wrong with people looking to make there lives just a little more exciting; he understood that. Heck, Sarah had often been the one that pushed him to get a little friskier.
They had married young, right after Henry returned from service in the Army, and at first they had a normal, if not great, sex life. It wasn't long, though, before Sarah would find him working in the barn and the next thing he knew they'd be stripped out of their clothes and literally doing it in the hay. There wasn't a room in the house where they hadn't had sex. He had enjoyed it and he was pretty sure Sarah was having a pretty good time herself. As they got older they didn't have as much sex as when they were younger, but that spark never went away completely. He'd come in, dirty, covered in sweat, and he'd find his wife in nothing but her bathrobe and even though he felt he should at least go get cleaned up and take a shower, she would push him down on the couch and they'd be making love only minutes after he walked through the door. If he was sweaty, and maybe even smelled a little, she didn't seem to mind, and if anything she seemed to enjoy it even more. He doubted she would be as wild as some of the groups he read about, but he doubted that she would have had any negative opinions of those folks either. She was a free spirit; live and let live she often said.
Although they weren't perfect Christians, far from it, they would go to church at least once a month, if for no other reason than to make sure the few neighbors they had didn't think too poorly of them. On those few occasions when the pastor would give a fire and brimstone sermon, talking about the evils of men and their desires, Sarah would often look over to him as they drove the long drive home and say, "You know, we are going to straight to hell. By golly, pack your bags now honey, because after what we did last week in the barn I can guarantee you that there are two lockers being built in hell right now with our names on them." She'd start to laugh then, which would get him laughing, and by the time they arrived home they were in the best of moods. They knew they were good people, or good enough, and if there was a God that was indeed so nit picky about every little desire and sin, then they'd just have to deal with it when the time came.
"Reverend Jones just needs to get laid," Sarah would say after a particularly fearsome sermon, and Henry would agree, looking over at the reverend's wife and thinking, that poor bastard has to sleep with that woman. God have mercy on his soul.
Life was good.
When Sarah started to get sick it happened quickly. A trip to the doctor to check pains in her stomach and back turned into a trip to Lincoln, where an MRI showed something on Sarah's pancreas that shouldn't be there. They spent the night in Lincoln, a biopsy was taken, and in less than 24 hours Sarah and Henry were told that the cancer had spread beyond the pancreas, but they'd do everything they could to save her life. Henry listened, and the doctor was an honest man and didn't try to sugarcoat her chances, and when they drove home that night they both knew that it was bad... very bad.
Henry drove her back to the hospital a week later where she began both chemo and radiation treatment. She stayed with Darla and William, and although Henry wanted to stay, Sarah demanded that he go back home and tend to the farm as there was no one else to do the work. He still made the drive once a week and spent two nights each trip, but in the end he would not have to make the trip too many times. Darla lasted only six weeks before she slipped into a coma and died two days later. He was with her, those last two days, staying by her side. He slept at the hospital knowing that the only partner in his life was in her last hours on this earth.
When she stopped breathing he was there, along with Darla and William. They arranged to have her body brought to a small cemetery that was just a 15-minute drive from the farm. It was an old, simple, small, fenced, cemetery surrounded by nothing but farmland. It felt right to Henry that her final resting place would be in the land she loved the most. He bought an empty plot next to her, knowing that one day he would be by her side.
He visited her once a month and he talked to her. He told her how much his missed her and he missed her so much. He told her how much Darla missed her, but he also let her know that things were getting better, if just a little, but still better, as he knew Sarah would expect them to keep moving forward with their own lives. She never felt sorry for herself, even when she knew she wasn't getting better, and she would never tolerate either Henry or her daughter feeling sorry for themselves. So he did the best he could and over time he began to let go of the guilt that he lived and she died, and he began to stop being so hard on himself, to go ahead and start to live again. She would want him to move on, never forget, but to move on.
Alone, especially at night, he couldn't help but to feel lonely, but he also began to feel certain manly needs that he thought had been shut down forever. He was still a man, and although he wasn't a young pup he still had needs. He knew he could take care of himself (and he often did) but there was something about the touch of another person that could not be replaced by naked pictures, and the occasional short videos that he was able to pull up on his phone, as he stroked himself.
It wasn't something that he did every night, but on those nights when he couldn't sleep he'd find himself reaching for the phone and searching for sites where he could find a little relaxation. He felt no guilt, no shame, but he did start to realize and remember that there were certain desires that he had never even shared with Sarah, although he wondered why he didn't. She had often told him about how she admired a woman's body, and even told him that she had experimented when she was younger with other women. Henry had been perplexed when she had first told him, but he had heard that it was fairly common for women to be more comfortable with other woman, especially when they were younger. He knew that he certainly didn't have a problem with it, and he told Sarah as much. Although they had never taken it any further than fantasy she would often whisper in his ear as they made love how she would love to have another woman with them and what type of show she would give for him if one was there. It was just dirty-talk, and they both engaged in it freely, and he knew that there was nothing wrong with it. In fact he thought it helped them have a very active and healthy sex life. It brought them closer together, knowing that she was comfortable telling him of her desires that although were not possible (at least at that point in their marriage), she clearly enjoyed sharing her fantasies with him when they made love.
It was during these moments of complete honesty where Henry had wanted to make his own confessions. After she died he felt ashamed that he had not been as completely honest with her as she had with him. Although he loved his wife, his family, and the life they built together, he also had desires that he knew that society did not look upon approvingly.
He wanted to tell Sarah that although it had only happened a couple of times that he also had been with someone of the same sex. One time was in high school, and the other when he was in the army. The episode in high school was innocent enough as he has let a friend suck his dick one night when they had stolen some beer out of his parent's fridge and had had a sleepover in his room in the basement. Although it was just a six-pack between the two of them, it was enough apparently because soon they were talking about girls, sex, who was still a virgin, who wasn't. Just talking about sex at that age was enough to get one's hormones flowing.
His friend had asked if he had ever had a blowjob, and Henry had admitted that he had not. His friend, looking suddenly hesitant and slightly scared, asked him if he wanted one. Henry was surprised at the request but he didn't stop his friend from first putting his hand on his leg, and then unzipping his jeans, and then finally getting on his knees on the couch where he sat and pulled out his cock and started to suck on his cock. He wasn't sure if his friend was gay, but he was pretty sure he himself wasn't, yet he didn't push him away. He wasn't angry either, and it felt good. He lasted only a few minutes. Within a few minutes they were nervously laughing about what had just happened, and although Henry worried that things would be odd between them from that point on, it wasn't. They remained friends until graduation when they both went their separate ways, his friend to college and Henry into the Army.
During his second year in the Army he was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. On leave many of the soldiers would spend a few days in Frankfurt, which was less than an hour away. He had befriended an Army buddy from Texas. They had both grown up away from the big cities and found that their interests were similar, choosing to hang out in down times and just talk versus the rambunctious drinking and partying that most of the other soldiers engaged in when not on duty. Henry didn't analyze why he enjoyed spending time with this other soldier... he just knew that he did, so that when they both had a couple of days leave he didn't think anything of it when they left together to go to Frankfurt and spend the weekend.
They spent most of their time sightseeing, and at that first night they found a local pub where they had a good meal and a few drinks, although not enough to get drunk. They then went back to the small inn where they had rented a room for two nights. There were two beds in the room, and although it was still fairly early in the evening, they both undressed down to their underwear and continued to discuss things of no particular importance.
Hendy didn't know if it was he, or his friend, but something between them suddenly felt different, but not uncomfortable. If anything a sense of calm set in for a few minutes, as they said nothing, each just lying on their own beds, looking around the room as if there would soon be something new to look at that would catch their attention.
Then, as if in slow motion, they both turned to look at each other at exactly the same time, as if they knew they couldn't hold back what was going through both of their minds any longer. They stared at each for a few seconds, probably no more than 15 Henry imagined, and then his friend slowly rolled to his side, got off his bed, and then lay beside him. There was no tension, as one would think there would be in such situations. Henry reached up and put his hand on his friend's chest and then leaned forward and kissed him. It was a slow, light, kiss that seemed to go on forever, and a peace flowed through Henry's body like one he had never felt before.
Hands began to move, bodies moved closer, and soon they were in an embrace that felt as if they had both been holding back passions that had been hidden since the day they were born. It was passion, then lust, and back and forth between the two feelings, until they were both in a frenzy where nothing mattered except the need to feel every inch of the other's body in as many ways possible. What remaining clothes they were wearing were quickly striped off and their hands were squeezing each other's cocks, ass cheeks, and any other piece of previously forbidden meat they could get their hands on.
And it wasn't just their hands that did the exploring. Their mouths worked down to each other's necks, down to nipples, and stomachs, until finally they flipped around in bed and simultaneously began to suck on each others' cocks with a passion and fearlessness that surprised Henry. He had never done anything like this before with another man, and although it may not have felt natural, it did not feel wrong either. He respected his buddy; heck he knew he had feelings for him, but this was something special between two people. If anyone thought that what the two of them were doing was wrong, it would only show that person as someone who did not understand that part of living, part of merely existing, is learning how to give in to the innocent passions that envelops all of us.
They spent the entire weekend together and although they did go back into the city to explore, eat, and laugh, they also found more time to be alone and to share something between two people, something so special, that even all of these years later Henry could remember every detail, every touch, every deep gaze into those beautiful eyes where he would literally get lost in them and never want to return.
The weekend ended, and as many things do at that age, things change; change without that person understanding the ultimate consequences how seeing someone one day, and not seeing them the next could haunt them for the rest of their lives. Henry received his orders to go back to the states first and the last time he saw his friend was at the base. He gave him a hug, looked him in eyes that sent a message he could not even begin to express with words, nodded his head, and then turned around and walked away. He never saw his friend again.
He did not re-enlist and as if he had never left in the first place he found himself back in Nebraska, back on the farm where he was raised, and helping his father do what he had done for his entire life. 10 years later the farm would be his, his parents retiring and moving to Arizona where his mother had family.
During that time he had met Sarah. He knew when he met her that she was the one. A meeting at the Moose Lodge led to a date and six months later they were in Las Vegas getting married. It had happened quickly, but he had no regrets and he was sure Sarah had none either. He wasn't sure he believed in soul mates, but he knew he had found a good girl, a keeper, and when Darla had come into the world he saw that she was a wonderful mother.
He had thought about his Army friend, and that weekend in Germany, a few times over the many years, but he never had any regrets. He never felt like he was now living any type of lie. What he had with Sarah was real; the love was real and the life and experiences that came out of that love he would not trade for anything. That weekend was a memory that he looked upon with fondness, when it entered his memories at all. And as he now sat alone, in a silent house with nothing but memories, he found that he thought more of that weekend than he had ever previously.
Maybe it was the lonliness, the silence, and the emptiness of something to hold onto, that he found himself looking at applications that were designed for men who were looking for other men. At first he reviewed the apps out of curiosity, but eventually he found himself really wondering if someone like him, a man who had his better years behind him, really could look into the window of his soul and find some answers with someone like himself. He couldn't possibly be the only man in Nebraska who had had a great life, but felt it was time to pull back the covers and see if there was anything missing in his life that he had been covering up for many, many years even if in those years he was with one of the most beautiful and loving women on the face of the planet.
He decided he would pull back those layers and see what's underneath. He was 50-years old. Heck, if not now, when? At a minimum, what would be the harm?
He found an application that at least, on the surface, didn't seem to be all about sex; most of them were. It was a sight for men looking to meet friends. It worked fairly simple. After you downloaded the application you were able to upload a brief description of yourself, your interests, what you were looking for, etc. It also had a place to put a photo of yourself, if you were so inclined. What Henry liked about it was that it allowed for a fair amount of anonymity. He wasn't going to put a picture of himself on the app (instead he put up a picture of his barn), but he did put an honest description of what he was hoping to accomplish.
He said he was looking to meet a friend, someone who would occasionally want to go out and have a beer, hang out, and enjoyed the outdoors. He didn't really know what else to write, so keeping it simple seemed like the best idea. He put in his age, his height, weight, etc., not sure if that would attract or scare any viewers of his profile. He had nothing to lose he figured, and if it didn't work out then at least he gave it a try.
He also had to come up with a profile name. He didn't have to think very hard on that one. He came up with Simple Farmer because that was exactly who he was. He wasn't a complicated man, and hoped that someone out there would be looking to meet a simple and kind person like himself. There had to be someone out there, he thought.
Another thing he liked about he app was that it gave the distance of how far away the person was described in any particular profile down to how many miles and if under one mile even down to the foot; technology certainly had come a long way. With him being out in the middle of nowhere he doubted there would be many guys who not only were like him, but also happened across this same application and installed it on their cell phone.
He loaded the application and then after a brief few hours where he was advised his profile was `under review' he got a message saying that his profile had been approved. He was now live.
He tapped on the screen to open the application and suddenly across the screen were many small, square pictures of men's faces, bodies, and other profile pictures. He was surprised at how many men popped up on the screen as the app was programmed to show members who were closest to him.
He clicked on a few just to see how it worked, and their profiles popped up displaying the same information that he had entered for himself when he set up his own profile. The first profile he looked at was a guy who appeared to be nice looking, standing in what appeared to be someone's backyard barbeque, and although quite a bit younger than himself he felt a little sigh of relief that the guy was just outright normal looking.
Someone like me, he thought, and then his hopes diminished when he noticed the distance... the guy was 112 miles away.
Well, he thought to himself, I shouldn't be surprised.
He began to open up more of the profiles and sure enough they were all miles and miles away. His idea that maybe, just maybe, there was someone close started to diminish with each click of his finger as he opened up more and more profile descriptions.
As he was reviewing the profiles, his hopes deflating, he was briefly confused when his phone suddenly vibrated and then rang twice, giving off an old fashion ring... ring noise that imitated the old fashioned Ma Bell phones of the past. When Darla called the phone gave off an annoying chiming noise. This was something different.
He saw that he had received his first message on the new app.
He hadn't programmed the phone to make that ring... ring noise, and he knew that he if went into the app's options menu he could probably change it, but it was nice to hear a phone actually sound like a real phone, although it did seem kind of strange hearing what sounded like a real phone ringing coming out of such a small device.
The message box was highlighted and when he clicked it he saw
the profile picture of the man who had sent him the message. When he clicked on the picture the app then displayed the message, along with a description of the man who had sent it.
He noted right away the guy was over 100 miles away.
The message simply said, "Hi."
He responded back with a corresponding "Hi", and then quickly thereafter received another message asking, "What's up?" After several back and forth messages, with Henry pointing out that they were over 100 miles apart, the messages stopped.
As he checked out different profiles he would occasionally get another new message that pretty much followed the pattern of the first a few back and forth messages until Henry pointed out how far apart they were, and then... silence.
The app apparently wasn't going to accomplish what he had hoped. At first he was going to delete it, worried that if Darla visited she would pick up his phone and start to sniff around, but then he knew she wouldn't do such a thing. She wasn't like that. Just him answering the phone had been her only goal, and he doubted she had any idea that he would be using the phone for quite a few more things that she had anticipated. Heck, maybe if she did know she may not have been all that surprised. Children knew things about their parents that would surprise them, just as parents understood their children better than they thought.
Having tried, and not really failing, but not getting the traction he had hoped, the next day Henry snapped the phone back onto his belt and went about with his day, forgetting that he had installed the app at all.
It had been three months since Darla had given him the phone. Three months where the harvest had come in (and a good one at that), and Henry was in the midst of winterizing the farm for the cold and blizzards that would soon begin to swirl.
It was still warm during the day, but the nights were now becoming colder as soon as the sun began to settle low in the sky. Winter was still weeks away and he still had time to sit on the porch to watch the sun go down, allowing him to reflect on another summer gone pondering what had went right, what had gone wrong and plan accordingly for next year's harvest.
He was slowly rocking in his chair when he felt the familiar vibration of his phone. He was about to grab it, thinking it was Darla, when it gave off a sound he had not heard in many weeks.
Maybe this guy is at least in the same state, Henry thought sarcastically.
He snapped his phone out of its holster and opened the application and sure enough there was a message waiting for him. The profile that had sent the message did not have a picture of a person, but instead a picture of a small, cheaply carved, wooden Jesus staked to the cross, that appeared to be hanging on a brick wall. Although Henry had always thought that the sight of Jesus pinned to the cross was more than just a little morbid, he had seen similar crosses in the homes of friends and family who apparently didn't share the same concern. He would have merely thought the profile picture was a sign of the man's religion, however this was no ordinary cross of the Son of God.
What stood out to him were the eyes. The eyes on the wooden Jesus, the head tilted to the side staring, were glowing red. Even on the small screen it appeared that the eyes were staring directly at him, that they could see him, that they were watching him, as he sat on the porch with his phone held inches from his face.
It gave him the creeps.
I should just ignore this, he thought. This guy was either a religious nut, or someone who was not quite right in the head, otherwise why put a picture of Jesus staked to the cross as your profile pic, let alone one that looked like Jesus had the eyes of the devil.
And then there was the profile name the man had given himself: Wicked One.
There was a `block' button that he had never used previously, and he was tempted to use it now, even before reading whatever message this guy had sent. His finger hovered over the block button and he knew he should just ignore this guy. His gut sensed trouble. But as he sat there on the porch, the sun now slipping fully below the horizon, he thought to himself, seriously Henry, it's just a message on a phone.
He was momentarily embarrassed that a picture and a screen name had given him the creeps. He would read the message and then just get rid of the guy.
He clicked on the message.
"Hello Simple Farmer! Did you enjoy the sunset?"
Henry instinctively looked up and scanned his front yard, looking toward the barn on his left and to his wife's now unused greenhouse on the right, and then forward down the dirt road that went for miles before reaching the highway.
How did he know I was watching the sunset?
After seeing no one, and shaking his head back and forth in embarrassment at being so easily spooked, he realized that the man (whoever he was) was most likely aware the sun had just set and was merely making a comment on it. He had no way of knowing that Henry was sitting on his porch and actually watching as it went down.
He hesitated, still thinking that he should just block the guy, but then he noticed the rest of the man's profile description. He had left off any physical descriptions and in the area that described what he was looking for he had written:
"I am a Traveling Man. If you are reading this then most likely you are near me, and more importantly at least for me I am near you. I find it filling to meet the acquaintance of fine men of good stock and moral fiber. If you are so lucky as to get a message from me that means I am close and am hoping that we can meet for a full and plentiful dinner, or possibly just a snack. It all depends on you, really. If I do reach out to you, a response would be appreciated, but not in the least necessary for my purposes."
Henry read the profile description and to say he was perplexed would be an understatement. The man certainly thought very highly of himself. Henry thought of his own profile and felt embarrassed that he kept it so simple, yet he doubted that many people would read this person's profile and think, Yeah, I want to meet this guy!
His thumb was still hovering over the `block' button when he noticed the distance of the man: 130 miles. This guy with the spooky screen name, with the picture of a Jesus with blood red eyes, and a profile description that was less than inviting... wasn't anywhere close, in fact he was over 100 miles away.
Henry read the guy's message again, and for the moment ignored the stranger's screen name and the rest of his odd profile, and focused simply on the stranger's message; it wasn't rude, or even weird he was just asking if he enjoyed the sunset. If he didn't respond back it would be he, not the other guy, who would be rude. Plus the guy was over a hundred miles away, so why not play along? It could even turn out to be amusing chatting with the guy crazy nut or not.
He pressed his thumbs to the small buttons and replied back.
"It was beautiful. This time of year the fall colors are beautiful all by themselves, but toss in a sunset like that and it's a wonderful thing to witness."
Henry hit the `send' button and then snapped his phone back to his belt. He did the right thing. He was the bigger guy and maybe got a few easy Karma points out of being nice and replying to the guy, no matter how weird he came across.
He continued to rock on the porch, noticing the cold air as it was getting darker by the minute. The photosensor light that he installed on the barn turned on automatically, brightly illuminating his front yard, the porch, the greenhouse and the front side of the barn. He had installed the light soon after he married when Sarah complained that she didn't like how dark the farm got at night. Henry actually enjoyed the darkness. The dark had never scared him, and in fact did just the opposite it relaxed him; he found it soothing. Sarah, however, insisted that he install an outdoor light strong enough to light up the whole site. He originally had it set on a timer, but then became tired of having to adjust the light every time daylight savings time came and went. With the photosensor the light came on automatically at dusk, and turned off when the sun rose in the morning. It worked, Sarah was happy, and that's all that matter.
He began to get up and go back into the house for the night when his phone vibrated again.
He sat back down in the chair and stared down at his phone. He pulled it off his belt and his new friend had left him another note. He pressed the `message' button and read:
"The coming of night is always a beautiful thing... at least for me. You live on a farm I take it? At your age I am assuming you live alone, or is the wife gone for the evening? I do not mean to impress upon your privacy. I ask merely out of curiosity to determine your intentions this evening."
Again the message was not threatening, but there was something about the tone that made the chill in the air that much colder. He wanted to go inside, where it was warm, but he found himself remaining in place, his eyes locked to the screen. He had just noticed that the distance function was now indicating something different.
He was now only 110 miles away. He was 20 miles closer.
It had been a while since Henry had done quick math in his head. It had only been five minutes maximum when he had read the stranger's first message and at that time he had been 130 miles away. In five minutes he somehow was now 20 miles closer. At 60 mph one would travel 5 miles in 5 minutes. He had traveled 4 times as far, thus four times as fast. That would mean he was somehow traveling at 240 mph. That just wasn't possible.
When he first downloaded the application he read a section of the app's help manual that explained how the distance function worked. As he expected it worked off of the explosion of GPS technology over the past decade that was first used by the military, but now used more often by consumers for their cars, phones, and now apparently... social connection sites such as this. He had wondered how accurate the devices truly were, but he had remembered using a GPS device when he and Sarah flew to Arizona to visit his parents. He was amazed at how a device communicating with several satellites simultaneously somehow knew exactly where his rental car was at any given moment, and gave him precise instructions for every turn he had to make for the entire trip. As he looked at the device that still showed the stranger was 110 miles away, he wondered if there had been a glitch. It was simply not possible for someone to be traveling at 240 mph, or anywhere near that fast.
He quickly typed a message back to the stranger:
"Yes, I do live alone and on a farm, but I am miles away from you, at least from what I can tell from this application. Are you traveling nearby? Why did you message me?"
This odd stranger, if nothing else, had perplexed him. At least this conversation, if you could call it that, was more than the previous messages he had received of "Hi", "How are you?", "What are you into?", or his favorite, "How hung?"
His phone vibrated again and gave off its familiar audio alert. He tapped the screen to once again view the stranger's new message.
"Yes, my new friend, I am indeed traveling and I believe I am getting closer to you by the second! I am indeed the Traveling Man as my profile indicates! To stay in one place too long only draws problems and inspections, neither of which sit kindly with me. I much prefer the open air and new sites that can only be found around corners not previously taken. It has been so many years since I have been is this desolated part of your country, but I must admit I do like how quiet the darkness of these desolate nights allow. As to your query, I am simply reaching out to a solitary man in this barren land who may seek the company of someone like myself. It would be such a delight for me to stop and visit you in person, if you would so permit."
He had to stop reading and then restart reading the message halfway through, after once again his eyes glanced at the distance indicated and saw that the stranger was now 80 miles away. He did not have to do any math in his head understand one thing:
The stranger was not only getting closer, he was coming even faster.
The chances that whatever GPS system ran this application was off by such a large degree was getting less likely by the minute. For the first time since opening the stranger's message, he began to worry. It was not fear... not yet, but a worry brought about by curiosity of not understanding what his eyes were witnessing. He had prided himself on understanding how life worked, how objects worked, how gadgets like this phone worked but he could not understand how someone could travel 50 miles in less than 10 minutes.
The `block' button was nearly screaming at him: Push Me! Push Me!
He knew that with one push of his finger he could rid this stranger from his world. His profile would disappear and he would no longer get any messages from the man. That would be the easy thing to do... but he had not been raised to just do what was easy, especially when it came to solving problems or facing your fears. His father had always told him, "If you walk away from a problem, you walk away from a chance to learn a little about life. Eventually if you walk away too often you'll have very little life left to walk away from." It wasn't a necessarily a profound statement, but it had stuck with him.
His curiosity overrode his common sense. He had to know what was going on. His thumbs began to tap away rapidly as he replied to the stranger once again:
"Are you heading in my direction? If so, how do you know where I am? I do not think it would be a good idea if you stopped by."
It had gotten almost completely dark, and the single light from the top of the barn gave his front yard almost a nighttime baseball park feel. His yard was bathed in light, as was his barn, and to a lesser extent the greenhouse, but where the light ended, almost complete darkness lay beyond. It was a cloudy night and the moon would not be providing double duty as the world's night light this evening.
His phone vibrated and he ignored the ring tone as he quickly brought up the phone and tapped the message.
"Ah, yes. I'm sorry if I have confused you. It was not my intention. Of course the intelligent man that I assume you to be could not possibly understand how I could find you. Let me explain. I am flying tonight. I so enjoy flying, especially on such a beautiful night such as this. I needed merely to simply change my course, a little here, a little there, and this great device quickly showed me the path that would bring me directly to your esteemed residence. It is regretful to hear that you have changed your mind about receiving my company. I am so close that for me to not stop now and at least introduce myself would be upsetting. It would be much more pleasant for the both of us if I was in a good mood when I arrived."
Henry looked down and saw that the stranger was now only 10 miles away.
He is flying? Flying what?
If he was in a plane it would explain how he could be traveling at a higher speed, but even with his limited knowledge of planes he doubted that only the largest of passenger jets, or possibly fighter planes, could travel at the speed that this man was apparently traveling. And if he was flying, how in the name of Hades was he planning on stopping? It wasn't like Henry had had his own personal landing strip plowed neatly in the middle of his field. Was he planning on landing on Highway 14, or making a crash landing on the dirt road that lead up to his house?
Henry didn't move for a few moments, his rocking had stopped minutes earlier, but his brain had not. There was a `refresh' icon on the phone and he pushed it, knowing what he was most likely going to see, but still hoping that he could be wrong.
The distance indicator had updated as he had expected it no longer indicated the distance in miles... but in feet. He was 3275 feet away. In less than 15 minutes the stranger had managed to travel 130 miles to the point where he was now just a little over a half-mile away from where Henry was now standing.
Henry was no longer just curious, but fear had now been added to this mix. None of this was making any sense and Henry's mind quickly raced through various ideas and scenarios, trying to find a practical explanation any explanation of what was going on... and he was coming up empty.
It suddenly occurred to him that if the man was flying then he should soon be able to hear the plane. He walked down the steps, off the porch, and into the middle of the front lawn and began to scan the skies. The application had indicated only how far away the stranger was, but not in what direction, so he slowly turned in a circle, looking and hearing for anything coming from the sky.
He saw nothing. He did, however, hear a faint whistling sound. It was barely audible at first, but then after a couple of seconds, he could clearly hear something that sounded like wind blowing through a wind tunnel, whining louder and louder, until Henry started to cringe. Henry snapped the cell phone back to his belt and as he was bringing his hands up to his hears... the noise suddenly stopped.
Henry thought he had also heard a slight thump as the screaming whistle noise stopped, but because his ears were still ringing he wasn't sure if he had heard anything at all other than the horrendous screech.
His heart was now beating hard, a
light sweat on his forehead, his hands up and to his sides, his palms facing
outward, instinctively waiting for whatever was going to happen next. But
there was nothing... Henry stood, frozen for what felt like an eternity, but was
actually only 15-20 seconds. His senses, now geared up to their highest level,
were running on overdrive.
Instinct told him that this game, or whatever it was that was happening, had played its course. He needed to get inside, and quickly. He didn't know what was going on, but he knew well enough that standing outside was probably not the best idea. He slowly turned and started to walk back toward the porch, his head and eyes continually moving from side to side, scanning and looking for anything that would explain what was taking place. Henry didn't have any idea what he was actually looking for, but his fight or flight response had kicked in big time and he was taking flight. It was time to get the hell inside the house. He had taken only three steps...
And then the lights went out.
Henry's heart not only skipped a beat, but for a second he thought it had stopped completely, and he found himself frozen in place. His first instinct was to bolt and run... but fear like he had never felt before had set in and he had stopped in his tracks, one foot still mid-stride.
He remained still, silent, his head slowly turning toward the only place where one could easily and quickly cut off electricity to the entire farm the barn.
10 years earlier the electrical co-op had buried the sole electrical transmission wire that ran from the highway to his premises. After decades of storms, and the accompanying downed power lines, the co-op had made the decision to bury many of the electrical lines, including Henry's. It cost Henry nothing; the only exception being that they would hook the new line to the nearest electrical hook-up on the premises, which just happened to be the barn. The new power line had been spliced and wired to a small fuse box located in the barn. The barn's fuse box provided electricity not only for the barn, but also for the security light he had installed at the apex of the barn that bathed the yard and house in abundant light. The old electrical line to the house remained, still running overhead, from the roof of the barn to his house, where the wire ran down the side of his house and connected to the main fuse box located in the basement.
For all of the electricity to go out, including the security light, someone must have cut the line at the barn.
As he scanned the barn, his eyes slowly adjusting to the sudden darkness, he saw no movement. He could still see the feint outline of the electrical line that ran from the barn to the house. It was still in place. Yes, he thought, someone cut the line at the barn.
With his senses now starting to return to normal, he started to very slowly walk toward the barn, almost on impulse. He didn't know what was happening, but even as confused and scared as he was, Henry knew that he had to get to the bottom of whatever was happening.
He had made it only a short distance when his phone vibrated again. In the silence of the dark he once again heard the familiar...
The loudness of it startled him, and once again he found himself stopped in his tracks.
His eyes had adjusted to the dark, and even with a cloud covered sky he was able to make out the shapes in the darkness, if just barely, that made up the barn and the house. The greenhouse was now barely visible in the darkness. He could still make out the dirt road, but only barely as it drifted into complete darkness.
He noticed a light at his side and quickly realized that it was coming from the cell phone, its screen now ablaze in light. Slowing reaching down, Henry unsnapped the phone from his belt. Holding the phone by his side he tilted the screen upward and saw the blinking `new message' light. He brought the phone higher and was now looking at it directly, only inches from his face. He didn't want to do it, but he knew he had no choice. He tapped the message button and a sense of dread poured through him like ice. The message said:
"I'm here, Simple Farmer."
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