The Storytellers Ch. 11byParis Waterman©
"I had always admired the boys from Pennsylvania University sculling up and down the Delaware River as a kid, and after my dismal showing in the '82 season, I wanted to get away from both Troy and Philadelphia, so I headed for South Carolina with the idea of joining up with a couple players from the Troy team, namely Bob Ferguson, Bill Holbert, who had taken over most of the catching on the club, and an up and coming pitcher, named Mickey Welch who lived to hunt and fish. Now I liked fishing as much as the next man, but when I arrived at Cumberland Island, I saw a row of canoes, and knew I wuz going to try my hand at a solo journey around that coastal area.
So as not to hurt anyone's feelings, I did go fishing with the boys the first three days we were in camp. It wuz a good time too, but when they decided to get some pheasant hunting in, I told 'em about my plan to canoe as much of the coast as I could; and if I had to, to take the train back to Savannah, where they would be whooping it up with some of the local whores after three or four more days of hunting and fishing.
Now, my original plan wuz to attempt to canoe along the 100 mile coast in three days, bringing enough food and water for four days if my body and the weather didn't cooperate. I packed up and launched from Jekyll Island, just north of Cumberland Island and paddled south to the Brick Hill campsites on the northern marsh side of Cumberland. But Ferguson and the others were not to be found. I later learned that they had gone into town, gotten drunk and slept right through the next day. I wuz a little annoyed at not finding them because they had taken the tents and other supplies with them. Anyway, I slept next to my canoe in a bivvy, and the following morning made ready to start paddling north.
The first day I paddled from the marsh, what we call 'the back side,' on the west side of Cumberland, and then north to the front side of Jekyll. I was blessed with warm temps and a tailwind.
Once I got my canoeing figured out, I poured it on, knowing that I had two days of warm weather with good tailwinds. The first day I stayed out front, that is, on the ocean side as opposed to the back side in the marsh, and paddled past Little Cumberland, Jekyll, St Simon's and Little St Simon's. I stopped on Wolf Island between Sapelo Island and Little St Simon's Island.
There I stayed on the beach as I didn't want to risk having some joker take off with my canoe. I slept a full eight hours, and got in two big meals before leaving the next day in the fog.
The second day out wuz another warm, beautiful day with a nice tailwind, and I felt great. I had the wind behind me and I wuz full of beans, so I paddled my hiney off from Wolf past Sapelo, St. Catherine and Ossabaw Islands.
My three day plan included camping on a great hammock, without nobody else around in St Catherine Sound. I paddled up to the north end of St Catherine Island and had to make a choice. See,I had pulled two forty mile days, and doing the coast in three days wuz looking like it was going to happen. I don't know if it was the wind and sun and spending all day on the gorgeous Georgia coast or hypoxia, limiting my ability to make sound decisions, but I decided that if I pushed ahead and made the north end of Ossabaw Island, I might be able to get to the last island on the Georgia coast, Tybee Island, in 48 hours.
Well sir, I paddled through dusk; and when I started to get cold, I beached on Ossabaw's front side, put on some more clothes, ate some canned beans and got back in the canoe before I thought better of my crazy plan. I paddled the rest of the way to the north end of Ossabaw Island in the dark under the nearly full moon, while the shrimp boats passed me headed in the opposite direction with seagulls following in their wake.
On the north end of Ossabaw, I made camp just above the rack line, made dinner, and started preparing for the next day. Eventually I fell asleep looking up through the mosquito netting of my bivvy at the clouds scudding across a bright Georgia autumn moon.
I woke up at 4 am in the dark, having heard a strange series of sounds. They wuz unlike anything I'd ever heard before, or since. The wind had shifted, and the temperature had dropped. I shook my head to clear away the cobwebs of slumber, but the sounds persisted.
I got up, and taking my hatchet with me, started out toward the noise. In my haste to find out who, or what was out there, I tripped over a root and fell, sustaining a nasty gash on both my chin and elbow.
Bleeding profusely, I cursed and thought about turning around and taking care of my wounds. But right then this voice came into my head, I shit you not. Clear as a bell, the voice sez to me, "Hurry, I'm sinking!"
"Where the hell are you?" I yelled. And into my head comes this voice again, telling me where to go, and then as I neared him, to be careful not to get trapped like he wuz.
"Twas quicksand, he wuz fixed in. Up to his neck he wuz.
Now it was dark, and I could make out a shape, but had I seen more of him, I might a shit my pants, 'cause he was not like anybody I'd ever seen before . . . or since."
Anyways, it wuz dark. So I wasn't afraid or nothin'. Like I said, he was caught in some quicksand and about ready to go under for good. I found a decent sized branch, and offered it out to him. He took hold, and together we managed to pull him outta the quicksand.
When I actually seen what he was, I fainted. Now I am not a coward, having had many a fight with boys and men bigger than myself. And I came out of those spats okay for the most part. I even had a husband catch me with his wife and come at me with a bone knife, and me with nothin' but my skivvies between that menacing blade and my flesh. I'll let you guess what part of my anatomy he wuz going for. But that's another story.
I woke up and found myself back at my campsite with this creature holdin' my canteen to my lips. I took it from him and drank deeply.
Then I heard that voice in my head again.
"Thank you for saving this wretched creature from the sucking sand. I was not aware of such things until it had me in its clutches."
"How can you get in my head like that?" I asked, overcoming my initial fear of him.
"First, allow me to introduce myself. I am called Arthur. As you must realize, I am not of this planet, but another, so far away that even the greatest telescope you have cannot see it."
I was studying this creature. He was shorter than me by a couple inches and at least thirty or forty pounds lighter. But it was his gray pallor that I had some trouble with. Now I been around Indians and Niggers enough so that a man's pigment ain't going to throw me off my feed.
But gray is the color of a dead man, or so I've been told. He didn't have a nose either, but I seen many a guy with their nose's bitten off in a bar room fight, so while unusual; I didn't think much of it, and in just a few minutes, in the earliest of dawn's light, we wuz conversing, and getting on just fine.
Arthur, I might as well call him by his name, asked me question after question. Where had I come from? Where wuz I going? What did I do for a livelihood? And he wuz puzzled when I told him I wuz a baseball player. A professional baseball player, and got paid right handsomely for doing just that.
Arthur nodded, and studied me some, and then he said, "I want to reward you for saving me from the quicksand, but you appear to be well off and not in need of anything."
"What do you mean, reward?"
"You saved my worthless skin, isn't that what you people say? I mean, is that the correct expression? I don't get to have many conversations with Earthlings, so I have to ask."
"Yes, that is an expression people use. But as for me saving your skin, don't think nothin' of it. I'd have done the same for anyone, and hope that someone would return the favor if needed."
"That's exactly what I mean," Arthur told me. I gave him a puzzled look, and he continued. "I wish to return the favor. I understand that I cannot save your life this very moment, but I am capable of performing some favors that you might consider magical in nature."
"You a magician?"
"Well, no. But... let us see... for example, you said earlier that you were a professional baseball player."
"I did," and to my surprise, my voice took on a sorrowful tone. "But my career is just about over with. My performance this year was not what I expected it to be, and if it weren't for old Bill Ferguson, the Troy club would be letting me go before the new season gets kickin'."
Arthur looked thoughtful for a minute, and then seemed to brighten somewhat. "Suppose, just suppose, that you could perform well indefinitely, would this Troy person keep you on the team?"
I laughed at the thought of me playing baseball at age forty-five.
"What, have I erred?"
"No, I seem to have misled you though. See, a fella can't play baseball past a certain age. It varies from player to player, but still most don't perform so well after turning thirty or so. So thinking about me playin' at forty-five made me laugh, 'cause it's downright silly."
"What if I gave you the ability to play on, with no loss in ability; with perhaps an ability to improve on your... performance, was it? Each succeeding year?"
I laughed at the thought, but sobered quickly when it occurred to me that Arthur might be able to do just what he was proposing.
"I appreciate what you're saying Arthur, but it don't work that way here. People'd get suspicious. Why some would say I wuz a witch or something. They'd be frightened of me; some might try to tar and feather me." I paused to form my thoughts, and then went on. "People do that when they're afraid of someone. They do it to the Nigger's all the time. They do it to keep them in line. I think it's 'cause they're afraid of them. Lincoln may have set 'em free, but there're plenty of white folk wanting to make them slaves again."
"I may have the solution," Arthur's voice spoke in my mind, his tone calm and soft. "Tell me, Bill, what if I gave you the power to take over someone else's body for a period of time you elect to chose, and when you leave them, they remain intact, while you move on to someone else?"
"I don't follow you," I said.
"How much longer do you think you can play baseball?"
"A year, maybe two," I said, knowing it to be true.
"I propose this: that you spend the next two years looking for a fellow who has the ability to play baseball. I mean really play it, better than you have thus far."
My ears began to burn; and I guess I turned beet red.
"Have I angered you, Bill?"
"You want me to look for a fella plays better than me? You got a nerve. I'm a big league ball player. There ain't but a few of us. It takes great skill to play ball, and where am I gonna find someone better than me? And how will I know that he's better than me?"
Arthur regarded me quietly for several minutes before answering.
"You will know. Of this I am certain. You have the ability to see such things in others."
After I considered what he'd said, I had to agree with that. I had spotted several kids on those Sundays we played with the local yokel's for pin money. One or two I had brought to Bob Ferguson's attention, and he had seen to it that they wuz signed up. But none had made it to the Big's."
Of course, Arthur wuz reading those thoughts and he nodded, saying, "You see, you can pick out someone with the ability. What you need to do is to find the right person. Don't make a casual guess about their abilities. Be certain. Watch them play, watch them work. Good habits are vital; don't pick on a heavy drinker. Check his eyesight. Better if he doesn't chew or smoke tobacco."
"Okay," I said, "How do I take over his body, and how in hell will people think he's me when I move on?"
"Good questions," Arthur's mild voice echoed inside my head.
"Once assured the other has greater ability than your own, you wait until you are alone with him then engage him in a conversation. It should be easy enough, you're both ballplayers. Then... now listen carefully, I am going to give you a secret word that once uttered will complete the transition between the two of you. Be certain no other person is nearby. That could complicate things beyond what either you or I can imagine. "The word is "Elephtheria." Repeat it three times," he said, and I realized that for the first time he was speaking aloud.
I did as requested, and he laughed. "Did you think, even for an instant that we two would switch places?"
I had not, and said so.
Arthur laughed again. "There was a split second when the thought was forming, but I quenched it rather than cause either of us any embarrassment."
"So I utter the secret word, and me and the other guy kind of switch places?"
"No, you take over his body and his thought processes. It is possible than on occasion you will meet some small form of resistance between their mind and yours; but rest assured, yours will dominate. And, when your new career begins to wane, you only need to seek out a replacement repeat the procedure to continue playing the game you hold so close to your heart."
"How long will this go on?"
"By your standard of counting... that is in years, I would be 5000 years old. I think that might suffice to quench your appetite for baseball. But believe me, you can continue switching indefinitely, there being no limitations set on you."
My jaw hung open as his words sank in.
"By the same token," Arthur went on, "you can stop anytime of your choosing by uttering the secret word backwards three times. You will age fifty years in the next fortnight, and pass on to your reward within a reasonable time thereafter."
"And should I change my mind?"
"You mean to reverse the procedure?"
"Then you merely utter the secret word again within proximity of another person, and renew your youth by taking over that person's form."
"Um, Arthur, I noticed you used the word person instead of man, or boy."
"You may change sex, should you so desire."
I thought about that for a while. Change into a woman. Had I ever wanted to be a woman? Not hardly. They wuz good for humping and all, and keeping a person warm on those cold winter nights, but turning into one, not on your life.
"Won't happen, Arthur. It just won't happen."
"After a few years you may reconsider, but it will be up to you."
"Will you be stayin' in touch?" I asked, half hoping he would.
"Each time you use the secret word I will know. I won't be bothering you; you need not worry yourself about this gray alien coming to the ballpark and yelling your name."
"No, no," I protested, although I had been worried about exactly that.
"I will monitor your career, but you probably will never hear from me, nor see me after today."
"Why not? I'd say you're kinda growing on me?"
"What? Like a fungus?"
"No," I laughed, "like a friend. We could meet from time to time. No one would have to know."
"Thank you, Bill. It's very kind of you to say, but I fear that future contact between us would probably draw attention to me. And that is to be avoided. After all, it's not likely people would react as you have to my alien form."
I thought about what Arthur had just said and found myself agreeing with him.
"Well, then Arthur, I'm glad I met you."
"And I you, Bill. Remember; take your time in selecting your next form. Should it not work out, you can repeat the process. I would think you'll get better at it as time passes. And remember, you have all the time in the world, use it wisely."
"Yes, Bill? Oh, how did I get to your world?"
I nodded; it was just what I was going to ask him. "There is a mother-ship. You can't see it, but it is near. We have been coming to visit your planet for thousands of years. From time to time we get involved with certain of you, but never more than one person at a time. We prefer to remain anonymous, for what should be obvious reasons."
"I understand," I said and looked down at my toes.
"You have a voyage to complete," he told me.
Yeah," I muttered under my breath.
"And a future to select."
"A future..." I repeated.
"Arthur... I... thank you. I mean it from the bottom of my heart."
"And I thank you, from mine, Bill. You saved my skin, right?"
I laughed. "Yup, I sure did. Take care, Arthur, wherever you go."
"Thank you, Bill," and he offered his hand to me and we shook. It wuz strange grasping his hand, unlike anything I'd ever touched before or since. But the feeling remained with me for weeks before finally fading.
Sometimes I can still feel his touch, and I think, well, maybe wonder if he's lookin' in on me from his mother-ship.
Arthur left me standing there, walked into the interior of the island just like that. Never turned back to wave, and then he wuz gone. I stood there hoping he'd reappear but after a time when he didn't, I set out for my canoe and found that the wind had shifted, and the temperature was growing colder.
I loaded the canoe, and paddled across the sound. The wind and waves were blowing out to sea, so I was sharply attentive as I was alone off the Georgia coast.
At first light I had almost reached the north end of Wassaw Island, and as the light came up I could see Tybee in the distance north of me.
Here is where I made the only mistake of my canoeing adventure: Thinking myself in home waters because Tybee was in sight, I made the tactical error of letting the wind and outgoing currents in Wassaw Sound take me out to sea a bit.
My original plan wuz to hug the shore of Little Tybee to hide from the wind, but I hadn't. This caused me a scary twenty minutes paddling as hard as I could to get back in to shore.
I dragged my sorry arse in to Tybee bucking the outgoing tide on the Back River, and hit the beach at 9:30am. 48 and 1/2 hours after I left Cumberland Island. So I didn't quite make it in two days, but after meeting Arthur I didn't really care, except that I had to rig a plausible story for Ferguson and the other fellows.