CONCLUSION & EMBARKATION
By James D. Bozarth
Copyright © 2001
Illustrated by Tangor
Ed jerked slightly as he awoke, disoriented. He must have fallen asleep. The man grimly took stock as he lay in bed with the Sunday funnies spread across his lap. The disorientation continued, but he had no worry on the subject, having experienced this sensation all too often as his life of three score years and nearly fifteen progressed. His large withered hands shook slightly as Ed raised the colorful pages to read, but the effort expended was too great; the newsprint relaxed to the bedspread as he closed his weary eyes.
* * * * * * * *
He glanced around the room. The sounds of grandchildren playing in the other room must have awakened him. It was a pleasant feeling to know that life goes on and that he, in part, was part of that life. Ed wanly smiled as he remembered the halcyon days of his own youth--and the feeling of invincibility and unintended indifference to end of life pain and suffering. His father and mother had died, his ex-wife of many years, his nephew who lost wife and child... Life was a bitch. One learned to live with that pain, yet...
His body was ravaged by a disease for which there is no cure. The control of his own limbs had rapidly faded as time advanced. There was little doubt he would be bedridden for the rest of his life. He was unable to ride his beloved horses and he could no longer drive an automobile--a fender bender which had been his fault. His eyesight was diminished as was every other organ in his body.
The Funny Pages beckoned. Life simple and direct. In his lap. Something to do this sunny Sunday morning, yet his thoughts seemed determined to explore the imponderable.
If only he could be sure of an afterlife!
Life is so sweet. No matter how troubled--and he did love his fractious family--giving in to his health troubles was not an option. He would fight death until the grim reaper challenged the fearlessness he had displayed to the Apache when he rode with the Seventh Cavalry or the management of Sears, Roebuck & Co. all those years before. Survive! I Still Live!
Ed did not dilude himself. This slow death of inches was both emotional and physical pain. He did not wish to wither and die by parts, yet there was nothing the doctors could do--or perhaps might do--considering his advanced age.
Shrugging off the melancholy, Ed turned his attention again to the paper, but a slight sound from behind the door to his room distracted him. "Hello?" he said, more to hear his own voice than to hear an unanticipated answer. "Which little imp is out there?"
There was no answer. Frowning, Ed asked, "Who's out there?"
"It's me, Eddie," a deep voice answered.
The familiar timber of vocal inflection startled the aged man. "Jack? After all these years?"
Ed painfully levered himself erect upon his pillows, supporting his torso on shaking arms. He searched the empty room for the speaker, his heartbeat racing wildly. "Uncle Jack?"
A gentle clatter of metal on metal, accompanied by the creak of well oiled leather, heralded the entrance of the speaker. "You moved. I thought I'd never find you."
Through the door came a most wondrous sight. A tall black-haired man in the prime of life, splendid in fighting harness with swords and pistols strapped to his belt. His panther-like grace accentuated a lithe step across the carpeted floor. Bejeweled ornaments encircled the man's arms and a large diadem glistened on his forehead. Strange plumes of gorgeous color decorated his hair. His skin was a healthy deep reddish-bronze that all Californians and pseudo Californians hoped they might obtain by dedicated sun-bathing under the West Coast sun. The man's grey eyes glinted with repressed humor as he came to stand beside the bed.
"Nephew...good to see you again."
Ed reached out his hand. "I had not thought to see you again in this lifetime, Uncle Jack."
"Our observers have watched you these many years by my direction and have advised me of your progress. Since the end of the war on Jasoom your path has been muddled. I sincerely hope I am in time." The man genuinely clasped the bed-ridden's man proffered hand.
"In time for what?" Ed asked, his tired body weakly subsiding into the fluffy pillows.
"Why? To find out if you are finally ready to come with me," Jack replied.
Ed fumbled with the sheets, but his limbs were strangely weak and he could not shift his legs from the bed to the floor. "Forgive me," he said. "I cannot seem to rise."
Leaning forward, the black-haired man pressed a comforting hand to his nephew's breast. "Actually, Ed, you can."
At the old man's startled look the tall man continued. "All you have to do is to want this with all your heart." He paused for a second to allow the information to sink in. "You do want to come, don't you?"
"You know I do!" Ed shouted, or at least he hoped it was a shout consonate with his deep desire.
"Then get up, you lazybones," his uncle urged. "Stand and walk with me."
The response was angry and tearful. "You know I can't!" Jack's nephew almost wept. "My legs are weak. I can't see as well as I...damn, it, Uncle Jack, I am dying!"
Laying a strong hand upon the hilt of the long sword at his waist the barbarically attired man scowled at the withered man on the bed. Quietly he whispered:
"You still live."
Uncle Jack's voice echoed, husky with suppressed emotion. "You will now get out of that bed, Eddie, or I will sadly regret that the blood which flows through your veins is the same as mine! Nothing is impossible for one who has the guts to truly want it."
Angered, Ed's mouth worked itself into a knot as he surged out of the bed. He grabbed his uncle's bronzed shoulders and shouted: "You know I can't walk!"
Amused, Uncle Jack looked into Ed's eyes. "Really?" An enigmatic smile curved his full lips. "Then tell me what you are doing?"
Ed followed his uncle's gaze. He looked upon bare feet and legs that were robust and healthy appendages, smooth of scar or age. These were not the limbs which had withered away with disease and age! Ed--a few months shy of seventy-five--had not expected to see such strong legs attached to his body again. He raised his eyes to his uncle's, which were an inch above his own.
Uncle Jack smiled.
"What happened?" Ed asked.
"It is in the blood, nephew."
Uncle Jack gestured to the bed. Ed saw his body, silently composed under the sheets, with eyes closed and hands resting on the covers near the pages of the Sunday Funnies across the expansive lap.
Ed glanced down again at his body, as naked as the day he had been born; healthy and more vigorous than he had been in more than forty years. His eyes again sought his uncle's grey orbs. "Did what I think what happened, just happen?"
Uncle Jack nodded, the brilliant feathers in his head dress waving gently in response to the movement of his head. "Yes."
Placing an arm about Ed's shoulders, Uncle Jack continued. "You have finally done what I accomplished nearly sixty years ago. Will you now come to Barsoom? Dejah Thoris anxiously awaits our return. She has heard so much of you from me over the years that she wishes to speak with you."
Lowering his voice slightly, Uncle Jack grinned. "She wants to know all my dirty little secrets. Promise you won't tell?"
Delirious, Ed spun around in an excess of joy. His body no longer ached. His legs supported him stoutly. His hands were strong and his face...
Ed faced the mirror over his dressing table. A young man gazed at him. Unconvinced, he made hand gestures and cranked his neck from one side to the other. He pulled his uncle close to stand beside him, viewing their joint reflections. The two men stood shoulder to shoulder, one clad in barbaric splendor and the other naked, but both in the full prime of life, each looking no more than thirty-five years of age. Both had full heads of dark hair.
"I haven't had this much hair in fifty years!" Ed declared. An instant later he said, "I look just like you, Uncle Jack!"
"The family resemblance is remarkable," his uncle replied, smiling at his nephew's obvious delight. "But, come," Jack Carter continued, "are you now ready to come with me?"
"Oh, yes!" his nephew breathed. "I want to see the worlds that others think I created. I--only you and I know that what I wrote is true. Let us be off to Barsoom, eternity, and the adventure of a lifetime!"
The two forever young men turned and left the withered worldly husk on the bed. Pacing out shoulder to shoulder, the door closed behind them.