A Life to Remember




Michael A. Heald






     Paul Whitehead died yesterday at the age of eighteen from complications of the Landau Neuromuscular Degeneration Syndrome.  He is survived by his parents, Peter and Mary Whitehead, and by his brother, Jacob.  No service is planned.



     Jacob Whitehead slid his left hand under the surface of the pond.  Green pebbles lined the sandy bottom in the clear two foot depth.  Tufts of limp grass drifted in the slight current toward the outlet creek.  Without any breeze to break the noon day heat, the usually raucous blue jays had fallen silent in the pines surrounding the pond.

     He dried his right hand on his pant leg and picked up the empty glass jar from the moss covered boulder to his right, gradually bringing it behind a pair of water striders.  He slipped the lip under the surface of the pond and watched happily as the two water striders settled unscathed on the water’s surface in the jar.  He stood up and pondered the two insects.  Satisfied, he placed the container into a cardboard box with two other jars that housed strider pairs from the morning’s hunt.

     He returned home along a path that wound through an old hay field that had been allowed to go fallow since the family purchased the land years before.  As he passed the old barn where Father kept his painting supplies, he quickened his pace to avoid the sour smell of manure that bloomed on hot windless days.  Mother had scrubbed the floor boards with soap and bleach for two weeks before admitting defeat and declaring that Father would just have to learn to live with the smell.

     “Hi, Paul,” Jacob said.  The steps creaked as he climbed up to the back porch of the white-washed farmhouse trying to keep the wet cardboard box from disintegrating in his hands.  “Pond will be great for swimming this afternoon.  Too hot for baseball.  How’s your ant colony study?”

     Paul relaxed back from his kneeling position on the grass.  He scratched his nose and smudged dirt on his face.  “The pond’s too cold.  I’d rather play baseball.”

     “You’re just afraid Susan Freeman will see you again!”     

     Paul ignored Jacob’s comment, but blushed as he stood up.  “I think I’ve got a handle on the ant colony.”  He waved his hands over a white circle the size of a bicycle rim painted on the grass.  “They always pass the same way.  Just like Wilson said, they must use chemical markers.  But that doesn’t explain their coordinated movement.  I think it’s more than Tandem Calling hypothesized by Moglich.”

     “Great!  I’ve got my Gerridae strider pairs to mark and release.”

     Paul put a small magnifying glass into his shirt pocket and followed Jacob into the kitchen.   A loud bang like an over-inflated bicycle tire popping on hot asphalt followed their arrival.

     “I told you not to slam the screen door!”  Mother stood at the counter slicing zucchini.  The smell of sourdough bread filled the kitchen.  Two cucumber and tomato sandwiches sat on white plates at a brown wooden table in the center of the kitchen.

     “Where’s Father?” Paul asked.

     “In his workshop.”

     “Can we go into town and use the Research Net this weekend?” Paul asked.

     “Yeah, I’ve got to do some more research on insect pairing,” Jacob said through loud smacks.

     “Close your mouth when you chew.”

     With half of a sandwich crammed into his cheeks, Jacob chewed with gusto until he could close his mouth and swallow.  “Denny’s Paradox is old hat.  I can’t hand in a science project that simply verifies that Gerridae striders move by creating water vortices with their legs rather than capillary waves.  But the Gerridae look like they pair up.  I didn’t find anything about that last time I checked the Research Net.”

     Paul nodded vigorously in agreement.  “I need to check out ant directional control, too.”

     Jacob took a gulp of milk from the glass in his left hand before biting into his sandwich in his right.  “Also, I need some more equipment.”  He remembered to swallow before finding something fascinating to study on the bottom of his milk glass.

     “Oh, come off it.  We were supposed to choose projects that didn’t require special equipment,” Paul said.  “I’ve only asked once before, compared to your three.  How come you think you’re special?”

     Mother sighed.  No one said that raising twins with IQs over one hundred and forty was going to be easy.

     “Don’t talk with your mouth full of food,” she said.  “You look like a cow chewing its cud.”  She shook her head and smiled.  At least she could do what any mother of twelve-year-olds could do--teach them table manners.

     “I’ll talk with Father tonight.  Maybe he can ask the Elders for special permission again.”  She looked from Paul to Jacob.  Some day the Elders might get tired of your special requests.”

     Jacob shrugged.  “It’s just school.  It’s not like you can do anything with it when you grow up.”


     One Saturday, after the morning chores were done, Father hooked up their roan mare to the pull cart.  He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted up to the house.  “If you boys aren’t here in thirty seconds, you can stay and forget about the Research Net, to say nothing of a trip to the candy store after!”

     Paul and Jacob ran out the screened porch, jostling each other as they tried to be first to the cart and win the privilege of sitting next to Father on the two hour trip into town.

     “Don’t slam the door!” Mother called after them from the kitchen.
     “Yes, Mother,” the twins said together.

     As they rode into town, they passed the occasional farmer working in the hay fields next to the roads.  Most were checking the irrigation lines from the national water grid or preparing robotic harvesters for the first cut of the season.  Hover-gliders passed overhead.

     Father received an occasional grunt in return when he tipped his hat in greeting.

     Jacob didn’t know why most people preferred the teeming billions in the skyscrapers of the world’s dozen metropolises to the open land and sky of the small towns.  Herkimer was middling-sized as towns went--only a few thousand people and he never wanted to leave.

     The town buildings were mostly two story gleaming white plastisheath hexagons with the occasional whitewashed clapboard mixed in.  At one house, two small boys laughed and threw stones at the cart until their mother ran out and clucked them inside.

     “Whoa!” Father called.  He stopped the cart in front of a house just off the central square that was smaller than most around it, having one story rather than the usual two.  A small screened porch lay off one side of the house, though the screen had pulled away from the bottom of the door.  A few thin shrubs planted along the front of the house tried to break the barren monotony of the yard.

     Father surveyed the house and frowned at the new white wall that separated the house from those around it.  Shards of plastisheath jutted out of the window frame next to the front door; its yellow curtain fluttered in the light breeze until it caught on the window fragments and lay still.

     A gray haired couple stopped on the sidewalk and stared.  Without a word, the husband placed his body protectively between Father and his wife and limped to the other side of the road.  Father sighed and tipped his hat, but the husband scowled and spat onto the road.  A woman looked briefly out from the second floor window of the house two doors down.  She frowned and pulled the curtain closed.  The street was empty of traffic.  What muffled noise there was came from cars on the streets on either side.

     “You two had better come with me.”  Father dismounted from the cart.  He tied the reins to a thin black pipe set in the ground next to the street.

     “Can’t we go to the Research Net?” Paul asked.

     “Yeah.  It’s only around the corner,” Jacob said.

     Father shook his head.  “Don’t know if it’s safe.”

     They walked down the red crushed stone walk to the front door.  Father removed his hat and scratched his balding head.  He knocked loudly four times.

     No one answered at first.  After Father knocked again, the door opened a crack.  “Go away,” a woman said.

     “Widow Crawley, I saw the wall and the window.  Who did it?”

     “Don’t bring your boys here,” she said flatly.

     “Nothing is going to happen to my boys.  Open the door.”

     Rachel Crawley had been called “widow” since she bore a son when she was sixteen-years-old.  Rumor had it that the father had been a wandering college student on holiday, but no one ever found him and Rachel Crawley had never said.  She refused her parent’s request for the baby’s DNA analysis so that they could check with the Central Data to find the father.  In the end, the church had simply assigned her the title of “widow” and accepted her into fellowship.  She had not married in the eight years since the birth of her son.

     Widow Crawly opened the door to the darkened interior of the house.  Her eyes were red and puffy.  She clutched a gray woolen shawl around her shoulders.

     “Rachel, what happened?”

     She stared at the ground.  Her lips quivered and she wiped tears from her eyes.  “Tommy came down sick two days ago.  I thought . . . .  I didn’t know what to think.  He just had leg cramps at first, like he got when he fell down.  He was always falling down.  Always an active boy.  Laughing every time he did.  Then the weakness set in just like the NetNews said has been happening for the last months.  You won’t tell anyone about my Net Connection in my house, will you?  I know the Elders don’t hold with modern appliances, but Tommy always wanted one.  He was such a bright boy that . . . .”  She stopped and took a shuddering breath.

     “I’m sorry, Rachel.”

     “It started to affect his breathing.  I called Medical from a neighbor’s house, but they wouldn’t come.  Said only people who deserved it got sick and turned into space lepers.  Tommy kept getting worse and I kept calling, but they just stopped answering.  Finally, I had to get back to Tommy.  But as I came inside, someone shot the window out.  I didn’t call anymore after that.  The walls around the yard went up some time last night.  I heard them, but I was too afraid to look.”

     Father nodded and glanced at the broken window.  “When did he die?”

     “This morning.  I thought he was getting better.  He sounded peaceful all of a sudden.  But he just stopped breathing.”

     “I called Elder McLeary, but he wouldn’t come.”  She covered her eyes with her hands and sobbed, “He wouldn’t come!”

    Father took her hand and gently pulled her out onto the porch for all to see if any cared.  Then he hugged her.  Rachel’s arms hung limply at her side for a moment, and then she put her face into father’s shoulder and started to weep quietly.

     “No one would come.”

     “Get your things.  I want you to come home with us.  You shouldn’t be alone.  My missus will look after you.  The ladies of the church will take care of you.”

     She pushed away.  “I can’t leave Tommy.  Even if no one will help, I can’t leave him.”

     “You won’t have to.  We’ll take him with us.  I have some blankets and some planks in the wagon to make a stretcher with.”

     “But you can’t!  Your boys.  You shouldn’t even be here.  They’ll catch it.”

     “Rachel, scientists don’t know much about this disease, but they do know that it is not contagious.  My boys can’t catch it from Tommy.  Don’t you worry about that.

     “They can’t catch it from Tommy?”

     Father shook his head.  “No.”

     “Then why . . . .”  She swung her arm vaguely around her at the wall and the shattered window.

     Father sighed.  “There hasn’t been disease for a hundred years.  When a machine can mend a broken bone in seconds, stop a heart attack, and cure a stroke, people forget what sickness is and the fear that sickness brings.”  He lowered his chin to his chest.  “Now they know fear again.  And fear makes people hate.”  He gently helped Rachel down the path toward the wagon.  “But each of us has a choice to love or to hate.  Folks will remember that soon.”  He helped Rachel into the wagon.

     “I hope,” he muttered.


     “Your boys will be fine with us, Mrs. Whitehead.”  Dr. Baer’s wiry body had given way to softness in late middle age.  He combed his long black hair from the sides of his head in a wave on his scalp in order to hide his bald spot.  To keep out the sub-zero January air, he huddled inside a thick gray overcoat.

     Peter Whitehead stood to his wife’s left, wrapping his right arm around her shoulders.  The three of them waited in front of the hover-glider.

     Dr. Baer cleared his throat in the silence.  “Your children will have everything they need.  Paul will be taken care of for the rest of his life.”  He glanced quickly at Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead.  “And Jacob.  With a mind like that, there’s no telling how far he can go.  I’ve never seen a twelve-year-old boy with such curiosity.”

     Dr. Baer shook his head.  “Nothing can make this easy for you.  I know.  I have two young children.  Your sons are unique.  No other twin pairs have had one fall sick and survive while the other was not infected.  By helping us to understand why only Paul was struck so cruelly, we might be able to save millions of children just like him from contracting this disease and suffering his fate.”

     “But who will love him?”  Mrs. Whitehead stared at the screen door.  Mr. Whitehead rubbed his wife’s back.

     “We said our goodbyes this morning, though I don’t think the twins really understood.”  Peter Whitehead looked at his wife.  “It will be all right, Mary.”  He took a deep breath and shouted up to the house.  “It’s time!”

     With an excited squeal, Jacob banged through the screen door of the porch.  Mrs. Whitehead sighed and looked at Dr. Baer.  “Promise me that you will teach them not to slam the door?”

     Jacob ran up to the hover-glider and looked excitedly at his parents and Dr. Baer.  He turned behind him as if to say something, but looked puzzled when no one was there.  He bit his lip and stepped next to his mother.

     The door creaked open as Paul walked through.  Mrs. Whitehead moved forward to help, but her husband held her tight.  “He knows how.  And he needs to learn.”

     Paul climbed down the steps as he supported himself with an aluminum crutch under each arm.  His legs seemed to follow him like an afterthought.  His head was bald, barren even of eyebrows and eyelashes.

     “He’s forgotten his hat.  At least let me do that.”  She ran to Paul and pulled the hat up from his side where it lay attached to his coat by a cord.  She put it on his head and then walked with him slowly step by step to the hover-glider.

     Paul barely came up to Jacob’s nose.  Dr. Baer had warned that Paul wouldn’t grow any more.  He would lose weight and his smooth hairless skin would thin and atrophy. 

     Paul stopped at the door of the hover-glider and looked at Jacob and at his parents.  “Mother, I don’t want to go away.”

     Mrs. Whitehead burst into tears, pulled Paul to her, and hugged him tight.


     “Come on,” Jacob said, as he rubbed his heavy growth of whiskers and turned off the apartment’s stereo.  New Jam’s recent punk rock music faded from the wall speakers.  “We’re supposed to see Dr. Baer.”

     Paul didn’t answer and continued to stare at the computer screen.  Words and phrases sprang to life as he flicked his eyes across the word processing palate on the bottom of the display.

     Jacob stood behind him and placed his hands on the handles of the wheelchair.  “Why don’t you use the voice recognition program I gave you on our last birthday?  It would be faster.”

     “I’m used to this.  Besides, I’ve programmed whole words and phrases for different eye strokes.”

     “Yeah, but at least I’d know you used something I gave you.”

     Paul stopped and looked up at his brother.  “Okay then, I just don’t want to use it.”  He stared at Jacob for a moment before returning his gaze to the computer.

     Jacobs’s knuckles blanched as he gripped the handles.  Slowly, he tilted the wheelchair forward.

     “Just kidding, bro’, like always.  You know that.  I just don’t like to be rushed.  Let me close the program and I’m all set.”

     Breathing heavy, Jacob dropped the wheelchair and stepped back, staring at his hands.

    Paul craned his neck up to look at Jacob.  “For a moment there, I thought I felt you getting ready to throw me and the wheelchair out the window.”

     Jacob licked his lips and dropped his hands to his side.  “Yeah.  What are brothers for?”

     “What are brothers for.

     The walk to the clinic took ten minutes down white halls whose monotony was broken by occasional white doors.  Each door had a white nameplate with black letters and each one ended with “M.D.” or “Ph.D.”.

     “Dr. Baer said we should get outside more,” Jacob said.  “They finished stage two observational studies last year and they want to see how we do with more environmental stimulation.”

     “I know that!  Don’t rush me.”

     Jacob stopped before the last door in the hall.  He palmed the entry reader.  As he pushed the wheelchair through the open door into the office, the left wheel bumped the wall.  Paul’s leg scraped against the doorframe.

     “Hey, watch it,” Paul said.  “I break.”

     “Sorry,” Jacob muttered.  “Hello, June,” he said a touch too loudly.

     “Hello, boys.”

     Jacob stopped in front of the secretary’s desk.  She smiled as much with her voice as she did with her lips and Jacob noticed again just how red her lips were.

     June sat behind a gleaming white secretary’s desk in the middle of the waiting room.  A few leather reclining chairs lined the opposite wall.  “Right on time, as usual.  You can go right on in.  Dr. Baer is waiting for you.”

     Jacob felt heat rising in his face as he watched her walk to the door behind her desk and open it for them.  When she turned, she smiled at him.  Confused, he lowered his gaze to the floor.

     “Move it, bro’,” Paul muttered under his breath.

     Jacob pushed the wheelchair through the door.  Even though he kept his gaze low to keep from staring at June, he couldn’t help but notice her perfume--crushed apples on a brisk fall day.

     An hour and many tests later, Paul and Jacob sat before Dr. Baer.  He used a deep brown wood writing desk instead of the standard white plastisheath.  The computer screen and voice activator lay to one side.  Irregular piles of white paper and brown folders obscured most of the surface.

     “Jacob, your bone plates have closed, so you won’t grow any more.”

     “The size of a large Christmas doll,” Paul muttered.  “But who’ll play with me?” Paul said in a high pitched falsetto.

    “And no muscle contractures,” Dr Baer continued with just a trace of a smile to show that he had heard Paul, “though I think that is more part of the disease process than anything we’ve done.”  Dr. Baer smiled and plopped the test folder onto the desk.

    “How encouraging,” Paul said dryly.  He held his hands up to ward off Jacob’s slap to his shoulder.

    “All your blood tests look fine for an 18-year-old.  Get some fresh air, a little exercise, and keep your stress level down.”

     “With a bro’ like Jacob, how can I go wrong?”

     “What are brothers for?” Jacob said.

     “What are brothers for,” Paul answered.

     Dr. Baer smiled.  “Just try and hold off on the fried foods.  O.K.?  Your weight is actually up a kilogram to thirty from last month.  You must like your brother’s cooking.”

     “But it’s down a kilogram from two months ago!”

     “True.  I guess we’ll call you even.  The good news is your cirrhosis is stable.  Your varices may have even regressed a little.”

     Paul scowled.  “So you mean my liver is not going to explode?”

    Jacob poked Paul in the side.  Dr. Baer was engrossed with the file on the computer screen and ignored Paul’s feigned ignorance.

     “Your stomach varices, you mean?  No.  When we almost lost you after your bleed three months ago, I was afraid you might get worse, but everything has settled down.”

     Jacob remembered that day three months ago.  They had just gotten up from bed.  Jacob pushed Paul to his bathroom.  Paul had had the mirrors taken away when they moved in.  The room radiated cleanliness--even sterility--from the white paint, the white tile, and the white enamel fixtures. 

     Jacob placed his hand on Paul’s slick hairless chest to support him as he leaned forward.  Though his legs were paralyzed, Paul had some residual strength in his arms that helped support his weight.

     Jacob reached around with his left hand and folded the plastic diaper from under Paul and pulled it away.

     “Sorry about the smell,” Paul said.  “Stinks more than usual.”

     Jacob threw the diaper into the waste disposal under the sink.  The whoosh of evacuating air followed the lid’s clang as the apartment cleaning system took care of the morning’s contribution.

     Jacob grabbed a white towel from the shelf next to the tub, wet it from the sink, and gently cleaned Paul’s buttocks.

     “You’ve still got the pinkest bottom of anyone I’ve every seen,” Jacob said.

     “Tell me whose you’ve seen and I’ll tell you mine.”

     Jacob blushed and hated himself for doing so.  Paul could make him blush whenever he wanted to.  Jacob’s prods never fazed Paul.  Unable to think of a come back, he said, “You should know.”

     Paul’s chortle was cut short as he threw up.  He collapsed forward onto his useless legs with his arms flopping limply to his sides.  Bright red blood gushed from his mouth as he retched.

     “You’re hemorrhaging!”  Jacob felt paralyzed.  What would Father do? he wondered.  What would father do?  Jacob wanted to bolt from the room and run, feel the freedom of the wind on his face and never see Dr. Baer or the hospital again.  He wanted to go home.

     He shuddered and shook his head to clear the growing nausea.  Paul would never go home.  Paul would die here. 

     As Jacob pulled Paul out of the wheelchair, he slipped on the floor slick with blood.  Paul’s lips opened and closed rhythmically and he stared out with glassy eyes.

     Jacob held Paul’s left hand and pushed the button on his wrist bracelet.  A claxon sounded and the bracelet auto-injector pumped Paul full of drugs to slow the bleed until the medical team arrived.

     Jacob smoothed Paul’s wet hair away from his face.  What would father do? Jacob thought.  How silly.  He had learned the answer years ago.  But did giving your life for someone you love mean forever?


     Father and Mother came for their monthly visit.  They looked surprised as always with the whoosh as the apartment door opened for them.  The speakers in the corner of the living room played a Bach concerto in the background.  Soft light from the afternoon sun reflected off the faux bronze floor molding.

     “Come on in,” Jacob called from the kitchen.

     Paul sat before the computer screen in the living room.  Words and phrases sprouted on the screen with each flick of his eyes.  “A moment.  Let me finish this paragraph.” 

     Mother wandered over to the corner to the reef aquarium to admire a Percula Clown fish.  It darted into the undulating pink fronds of an anemone.

     “I would have thought the fish would be used to us by now,” she said.

     “They don’t even like us,” Jacob said, as he walked into the room with a tray of glasses filled with ice and green tea.  “When we first arrived, someone thought micro-environmental conditioning might help Paul.  Meditation, relaxation exercises, that sort of thing.  Some old studies suggested fish can induce a pseudo-meditative state in people.”

     “We’ve deduced that it works only in people who like fish,” Paul said.

     “That leaves us out.”  The glasses clinked as Jacob set the tray on the table.  “No one came to get them, so they’re part of the household now.”

     Mother sat next to Father on the brown tweed couch.  After rotating Paul’s wheelchair to face the room, Jacob sat in a recliner in front of the fish tank.

     After a few pleasantries about the weather, the farm, and the demand for Father’s paintings, the conversation wound to a halt.  Father drummed his fingers on the armrest of the couch and said, “We’ve got good news!”

     “What?” Jacob and Paul said together.

     “Mother and I are going to have another baby.  He’s due in five months.”

     “Or she is.”  Mother tapped Father on the shoulder and smiled.

     “That’s great!” Jacob said.  “So, we’ll be a brother!”

     Paul scowled at him.  “You’ll be a brother.  At least get your pronouns right.”

     Father cleared his throat.  “Yes.  Well, Mother won’t be able to visit but for another month or two.  The midwife says she’ll have to rest up before delivering and then for a few months after he’s born.”  He looked quickly at his wife and smiled.  “Or she’s born.  But I’ll be able to come down.  I mentioned it to Dr. Baer when I saw him after we arrived today.”

     “You talked with Dr. Baer?” Paul said.  “Before seeing us?”

     “A brother!”  Jacob jumped up from the recliner and grabbed Father’s hand.  “Or sister,” he said as he gave Mother a hug.

     “Yeah.  Congratulations.”  Paul scowled at the arm rests on his wheelchair.

     “What will you name him?”  Jacob looked at Mother and grinned.  “Or her?”

     “We were thinking about James for a boy,” Father said.

     “And Hannah for a girl,” Mother put in.

     “Not Paul?”

     Father, Mother, and Jacob turned and stared at Paul.  After a moment of silence, Father said, “That’s your name.”

     “You should use it again.  I’ll be gone.  You’ve got a replacement baby on the way after all.”

     “Paul!” Mother cried.

     “Why did you send me away to this place for anyway?  You didn’t want a crippled pygmy around to embarrass you?”

     “Paul, stop that.  You know why.  It broke my heart the day they took you away.  But a family is for children.  You’re eighteen.  We have to keep on,” Father said.

     “I can see that.  You’re continuing your life.  That’s great.”  He moved his hand and touched the wheels of his wheelchair.  “I couldn’t even get myself a motorized chair because I was afraid that the elders wouldn’t like it.  Resister ways, you know?  I feel guilty every time I take a hot bath, knowing that the church only let’s you have a rinse with a cold bucket of well water once a week.”

    “That’s not true and you know it!” Father said.

     Paul took a deep breath.  “You owe me!”

     Father and Mother were silent.  After a moment, Father stood up and offered his arm to Mother.  After she stood and took it, he said.  “A parent always owes his child.  That’s what parents do.  Most people would call it love, though.”

     They walked to the door.  “Till next month?” Father said as they walked out.


     Jacob pushed Paul’s wheelchair over the dull white plastisheath walkway to the center of the park.  At fifty stories, the surrounding buildings were small compared to others at the center of the city and, except for a few hours around mid-day, covered the small park with continuous shadow.  As usual when the twins entered, the few people enjoying the eclipsed afternoon sunshine quickly departed.

     Jacob stopped under the leaves of an oak tree beside some small public use sculptures.  The white design of interlocking curves had been popular several years before, but the public had lost interest.  Now the sculptures were only used by the pigeons for their droppings.

     “Don’t see her.  She’s not right for you,” Paul said.

     “How would you know?  She’s June’s cousin and she only mentioned her the last time we went to Dr. Baer’s office.”

     ”She’s probably just like June and just wants to get credit for going out with the brother of the space leper.”

     Jacob’s face twitched.  He started to lift up on the handles of the wheelchair.  He gasped as the chair lurched forward.  He released the handles and raised his trembling palms, staring at them as if they belonged to someone else.

     “You need me.  I can help you.  You want to study science, right?  My mind’s still working.  The disease doesn’t hit that part of the body, you know.”

     Jacob squeezed his eyes shut.  “I am going to meet her.”

     Paul inhaled sharply.  “No, you are not.  I forbid it.  You owe me.  You and everyone else.  I didn’t ask to be this way.  You owe me and you know it!”

     “Listen, I’ve been doing nothing but feed you and wipe your butt for seven years.  I can’t even watch a movie over the Net without you.  I’m telling you, I am going to see her!”

     “Fine, but don’t come crawling back to me when she dumps you.  No one wants to be seen with a space leper, or anyone remotely connected with one.  You’ll see.  You’ll hardly last two weeks without me.”

     “You . . . !”

     “What are you going to do?  Break me?  Ruin their little science experiment?  They need two, remember?”

     Jacob trembled.  Slowly, he pulled Paul out of the chair and dropped him face down on the grass.  He picked up the wheelchair and smashed it against the tree until one wheel cracked and the other bent jaggedly.  He laughed and threw the wreckage as far from him as he could.

     “You bastard!” Paul said.

     Jacob didn’t look at Paul, but covered his ears and ran.

     “Wait, Jacob,” Paul wailed.  “Don’t leave me alone!”

     Jacob passed the next two hours pacing in the apartment--waiting for a call or a visitor--anything.  He told himself that he was not going to go back to the park.  Paul would be fine.

     Finally, with one last look at the clock, he ran back to the park.  The oak tree threw a spindly shadow as the evening twilight was overpowered by the light of the blazing skyscrapers.  A lone cricket chirped until Jacob entered, then all was still.

     Paul lay where Jacob had placed him.  Tufts of grass clung to his fingers where Paul had tried to grab a handhold to pull himself along the ground.

     Blood stained the ground--bright red, some dry, some still slick.  Paul’s face was covered with it.  Jacob couldn’t see Paul’s mouth since it was immersed in a congealing pool of blood.  He had been able to push his head away from his own vomit for only a short while before his strength gave out.  When he could hold his head up no longer, he drowned even as he bled to death.

     Jacob reached down to check for the pulse he knew he would not find.  He searched the shadows.  Even the random noises that always emanated from the doors and windows of the buildings around the park had ceased.

     No one had come.  He had killed Paul and no one had come.

     He reached down and unclasped Paul’s wrist band and then his own.  Tying the bands together, he put them in his pocket.

     What would father do?  He shook his head.  How silly, he thought.  He had learned the answer years ago.  Giving your life for someone you love meant forever.




     Jacob Whitehead, Ph.D., passed away in his sleep in Herkimer, NY after a short bout of cancer.  He was 86-years-old.  He is survived by Sara, his wife of 65 years, and two daughters, Hannah and Rebekah, as well as by numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.  A private ceremony is planned at the Amish Church of the Resisters in Herkimer.

     Dr. Whitehead identified the causative agent for, and developed a vaccine against, the Landau Neuromuscular Degeneration Syndrome, a prion-induced illness now known to have been deposited on earth by a long period comet.  One out of every 20,000 children under the age of twelve was affected, with a mortality rate of 99.9% . . . .


The End