I N T R O D U C T I O N
C H A P T E R 1
C H A P T E R 2
C H A P T E R 3
C H A P T E R 4
F R O M T H E J O U R N A L O F J. M. L I N C O L N
THE RED, WHITE, AND BLUE YEARS
1964: I find there has been little of my life that is worth documenting on paper, the last eight years having been spent in battles one after the other. It’s as though I am still in the military. I wear a uniform, I belong to a unit, we engage in combat against specific enemies. However, these conflicts are of a much more personal, albeit destructive, nature. The enemies are on U.S. soil, their goals are typically self-serving and seldom nonpolitical. Like us, our adversaries hide their faces beneath masks of their own design. I think at times our conflicts must seem ridiculous: masked man against masked man and may the best mask win. We have been victorious throughout our “career” as The Red, White, and Blue, at least there is that.
I feel a sense of comfort and peace beneath a mask of leather, and a uniform of cotton, leather, and protective chain mail, even though I know I do not require this protection. The Red, White, and Blue are officially headquartered in Kansas City, though we have ancillary hideouts on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Kansas, it was decided, was a mid-point to all corners of the nation. Easy to access danger wherever it might take shape.
Of my fellow companions in freedom I’ve learned much. I’ve formed a bond with White, whose birth name is Peter McNally. He is a man of noble heart and spirit. Orphaned at birth, he was found more dead than alive in a dumpster on the lower east side of New York June 3, 1925. He grew up in orphanages and group homes. Peter spent his time engrossed in cartooning and realized early in his youth that he wanted to become a satirist. At the orphanages he was often scolded for drawing. He drew on the walls, the floors, even the bathroom tiles. He drew on the end papers of the orphanage’s modest library. On tabletops, porch steps, furniture; even his undershirts. There was, of course, no drawing paper at the orphanage as he would often explain to its director, a tall, thin-lipped young man named Snyde. On his ninth birthday, Peter, sick with measles, was visited by a young woman from the visiting nurses association. She’d treated Peter on many occasions for various childhood illnesses. On his ninth birthday the nurse brought him a box containing twenty tablets of paper, three-hundred sheets to a tablet. She also gave Peter a second box filled with pencils, charcoal sticks, and conte crayons. “It was the greatest gift I ever received,” he told me.
At age eighteen Peter enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served as a gunner aboard the destroyer USS Archangel in the South Pacific. You will not find mention of the Archangel in history books, nor will you hear ex-GIs waxing reflectively about their tours of duty aboard the vessel. As far as the U.S. Navy is concerned, the Archangel never existed. Yet to those few who served aboard it, the Archangel was, in its destructive capabilities at least, a weapon of utmost purity. It was the first nuclear-powered destroyer-class vessel. Gun turrets fired cadium-laced 375-mm explosive shells with a range accuracy of 2.5 miles. Its cruising speed could exceed 150 knots. And on September 29, 1944, it was destroyed in the space of a single minute. Peter was among twenty crewmen who survived the initial blast–a design flaw in the ship’s nuclear propulsion unit had led to a core meltdown and explosion–and waited in the ocean. Waited to be rescued. They floated atop an irradiated sea and were enveloped in an oil-like film that clung to their skin and glowed green at night, before being rescued three days later by the USS New York.
Within six months, all of the Archangel survivors had succumbed to radiation poisoning–all except Peter. He’d survived, his body had not wilted from the radiation but grown stronger, an outcome not entirely dissimilar from my own experience decades earlier.
White commands the air, the skies, the elements. A square-jawed man whose face is full and large, he speaks never too little and never too much. He donates all but a fraction of his revenue to orphanages and other charitable organizations. Since the formation of Red, White, and Blue, Peter’s saved my life. Twice.
I’ve also learned much, perhaps too much, about Red. He speaks often, and seems to have perfected monosyllabic speech. He generally speaks to complain. Before being recruited Red, he lived as Trace Shaw, a third-rate auto mechanic from a fifth-rate town. He owned a small auto shop, though in truth it belonged mostly to the First Bank of Plankson, Alabama. He’d been married and divorced twice in as many years and was the father of three little Traces with whom he kept no contact. He drank cheap whiskey and chased cheap whores. When he wasn’t drinking at bars he was drinking at his shop. You might say that Trace lived to drink and drank to live. He cheated those around him and enjoyed the suffering of others. Hardly the heroic ideal.
In 1950, at the age of twenty-seven, Trace underwent a series of blood transfusions following a near-death collision when the vehicle he was driving collided with a moving freight train–a collision fully attributable to Trace’s attempt to race the speeding train to a crossing. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the life-saving blood he received affected his metabolism in ways that contradicted science. In the weeks and months that followed his recovery, Trace found himself possessed of amazing speed and the ability to solve complex numerical equations faster than an MIT chair. Trace’s intellect soared beyond genius level. There was no problem he could not analyze to what he deemed its “logical conclusion.”
Yet his body and soul still belonged to alcohol, his heart, to cruelty. I asked why he was chosen to represent America and was told, in hushed whispers and off the record, that it was better to have Trace with us than against us. Not so much in terms of physical prowess, which is impressive, but his mental abilities, which would be an invaluable asset to any foreign power. And while he attests he has “no love for commies,” Trace is, like the most stereotypical of comic book super-villains, motivated solely by wealth and power. Though I trust my life to Trace I do so knowing that it, as well as the life of Peter, mean little to this man.
And what of the man who brought us together? Of him I know little more now than I did on the day we first met, shortly after Joshua’s death in 1955. He continues to advise us from afar, though our contact with him is, at most, cursory. I suspect that he is, in fact, the World War II-era crime fighter the American Dream. I’ve no hard evidence to prove this supposition, but there is something in the man’s voice and determination–a resolve I’d heard once before when the American Dream was defending his actions to the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee to Protect America From Potential Super-Human Hostiles. There is something in the man’s movements, in his body language, that seems to give the appearance that he is larger than life. Or do I merely want to believe it’s so? I admit the answer is “yes.” I want to believe that following his seemingly overnight disappearance in 1955, the American Dream realized an alternate calling and formed The Red, White, and Blue to champion publicly those causes that he could no longer champion.
There have been many confrontations since our formation. One by one, they’ve fallen before us–the Stalinist, the Red Death, and the CCCP Ionizer. Each sought to further the cause of Communism by undermining the safety of U.S. citizens. There was The Grange, who in 1958 proclaimed herself “mistress of the living green,” and endeavored to annihilate the forests of the Pacific Rim; the so-called “Lines of Demarcation,” whose attempt to destroy the infrastructure of Washington, DC, in 1959 nearly succeeded; the Artificial Sweetener, who in 1961 used his powers of mind control in an attempt to cause the entire populace of California to abandon their homes and offices and walk into the Pacific Ocean. They’re like ants, and we’re . . . pesticide, I suppose.
We are a reactionary trio. There’s a three-act repetitiveness to our lives that is not unlike that of a play performed many times and with various actors in the role of antagonist:
Act 1: We wait for something bad to happen, for an antagonist to threaten or cause harm to others.
Act 2: Something bad happens.
Act 3: We intervene and emerge victorious. Problem contained.
It is a repetitiveness, albeit a necessary one. Life itself is a series of repetitive steps, and in my life I’ve climbed the same stairs so many times I’ve worn my imprint into the carpet. I do, however, feel that I am making a difference, that I’ve attained a greater purpose for the long, seemingly unending existence of my life. The number of adversaries we face, as well as the intensity of these conflicts, continues to escalate, perhaps not on a daily basis but (though certainly the super-human menace has ballooned since our first altercation with the Red Death, a curious, misguided little man suffering from dementia and Prince Prospero-influenced delusions) in 1956.
Peter and Trace live dual identities, a concept I find quite curious. Trace continues to repair damaged cars in a small shop near our headquarters. The shop’s expenses are government funded, and he retains whatever profits he earns. Likewise, Peter works as a freelance cartoonist, illustrating gag strips and works of satire for newspapers and magazines including The New Yorker and the Cartoons and Gags. He also does a considerable amount of volunteerism at orphanages and shelters.
Unlike Peter and Trace, I have not lived outside the mask. I feel as if J. M. Lincoln no longer exists. As if there is only Blue. I feel as though I need nothing else in my life at this time. As silly as it must seem, my only want is to make a difference, and I feel I can best achieve this goal behind a mask. But while The Red, White, and Blue have become an accomplished, undefeated combat unit, I fear the odds of an altercation ending tragically are steadily increasing.
1968: My long-standing suspicions are true. My theory is correct, though how I wish it wasn’t. Nothing is as it was. Red is dead. White and I will never be the same. And the American Dream has returned.
Events have a way of collapsing in upon one another. As if they are dominoes aligned one before the next, the cat’s paw of fate can swipe unexpectedly, causing a chain reaction of disastrous events.
Such is the case on August 5, 1968.
The man of shadow, who I’ve known since the formation of The Red, White, and Blue, but whom I’ve not known at all, appears at our headquarters at 11:30 AM. He speaks of an upcoming publicity tour, of which neither Trace, Peter, nor I wish to partake. He emphasizes the importance of the public’s support of The RWB. Much debate, much argument ensues. Ultimately, we agree to a seven-city tour, beginning in Dallas and ending in Manhattan. Trace and Peter leave the room, and I am left alone in his presence.
“You look concerned,” he says.
“I think a good will tour is a waste of The RWB’s time. But Trace and Peter are agreeable to it so I’ll go along.”
“Something else, then?”
“Just a question, really. A question for you.”
I try to make eye contact, to look directly at him and ask the question so as to see a dilation of the pupil, an unconscious blink of the eyelids. But there is shadow; as if he commands the light that falls upon his face, and I cannot see his eyes. I ask the question that has occupied my mind for the last several years, knowing that I’ll have no real means to gauge the honesty of his reply.
“Are you the American Dream?”
Silence. What my father used to call “bank vault” silence. It is a silence so pronounced I can hear not only my heartbeat but his as well. His heart rate is strong and steady. He walks toward the door to leave but still does not answer the question.
“I think you owe me an answer,” I manage. “I think we ought to at least know who you are.”
“Who am I?”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
“It sounds like you already know the answer.”
“It’s a suspicion.”
“A very good one. You have to realize something about me. I love this country more than life itself. When its leaders chose to brandish me a communist it nearly destroyed me. For a brief period of time I actually considered ending my own life. Eventually, I began to realize a much stronger potential in recruiting others for a higher cause. Selecting you, Trace, and Peter was no small task. There were others, of course. But I realized the three of you showed tremendous promise. After which it was merely a matter of careful promotion to procure government sponsorship.”
I feel like a child. Like a kid in a Western who’s just discovered the Lone Ranger’s secret identity. It is a sense of overwhelming hero worship and it completely dictates my next question.
“Why don’t you just, you know, join us? Fight with us rather than function as some mystery-enshrouded overseer?”
“I find it best to avoid the public spotlight. Besides which, I’m older now, not like you three. The American Dream has officially retired. I’m sure you understand.”
The shadow around him seems to vanish and I realize this man is considerably older, smaller, than the man who’d championed freedom throughout World War II.
“But you should know that when The Red, White, and Blue are called upon, I’m there as well. You may not see me, but I’m there. For the benefit of you and your teammates, I hope the information I’ve told you today will stay in this room.”
“That’s good. Now you’d better get into full regalia.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
He points to the white phone on the wall and it begins to ring.
We head toward Rapid Canyon, North Dakota. I fear there is little we can do to help, but it’s our job to try. I review the details of the brief, albeit disturbing, phone call I received from our army liaison, General “Thunderstorm” Jones earlier:
At precisely 11:21 AM, a blue acetate bubble surrounded the small town of Rapid Canyon, North Dakota. It appeared and enveloped most of the town’s homes, streets, and residents. It was as if a large, semi-translucent bowl had simply been dropped from the sky. Dozens of houses and vehicles whose proximity intersected with the edge of the dome were crushed. At least four persons are confirmed dead. Entrance into and exit from the dome is not possible. And although it is possible to slightly see into the dome, the dome itself is soundproof. Electricity and phone service in Rapid Canyon is disabled. Its residents have, in essence, become prisoners in their own town. All efforts to disrupt the barrier have proven ineffective.
We embark toward Rapid Canyon. To make a difference, if such a thing is possible. I look out the small window of our single-engine plane and gaze at the giant dome some twelve miles ahead. There is no going back.
We arrive outside dome at 3:55 PM. The military have formed an impromptu command headquarters outside the dome. Dozens of tanks, rocket launchers, and other vehicles are strategically positioned. Thick smoke hangs in the air and the ground is littered with spent shells. At the dome’s base, a regiment busily digs into the earth in an attempt to tunnel beneath the dome. Others press their hands and fists curiously against the unyielding semi-sphere. Two miles distant, on the opposite side of the great circle a second troupe fires relentlessly, trying to puncture the blue barrier. The sounds echo across an olive sky. There is frantic discussion among the military commanders, and a growing concern for those within the dome who face a dwindling oxygen supply. In addition, the barrier’s texture has begun to change. No longer semi-translucent, it has morphed into a dark gray wall of separation. We stand ready, waiting for the word to be given.
After several long minutes, it is.
We approach the structure, little knowing it will be the last time The Red, White, and Blue function as a unit.
“How do you want to do this?” White asks. “Brute force?”
“I don’t think we have any choice in the matter,” I explain.
Red and I begin to hammer at the dome wall successively with gloved fists. After several long minutes it begins to weaken–not visibly, but there is a new degree of flexibility to the dome that continues to increase following each strike.
A moment later, as if in response to our attack, a circular opening forms in the dome immediately before us. There is no time to react as an immeasurable vacuum force pulls us into the dome. Swallowed alive like minnows.
INSIDE THE DOME
Within the dome is chaos. The town that was once Rapid Canyon, North Dakota, has been remade, though certainly not in God’s image. There is light within the dome emanating from fires started by the dozens of individuals who walk trancelike through neon-lit streets. Others pound their fists frantically against the interior of the sphere, crying and pleading for help. The smoke from the fires surrounds us, making the simple act of breathing a task of endurance. We cannot ascertain the focal point of the dome’s energy, assuming one exists. Thus, we begin to walk toward the center of the town, hoping to obtain answers.
We may never know the true origins of the dome, but we learn several facts as we walk through the its imprisoned town. First, casualties are high. I stop counting at twenty-seven. Second, the dome seems to be growing.
It is this last fact that concerns us the most.
Despite the fires, the air seems fine. Yet inhabitants of Rapid Canyon collapse to the earth one by one, as if being picked off at random by sniper fire, as if the dome itself is absorbing their life energies. Locating the origin of the bubble proves to be an easy taskâ–we simply follow the trail of bodies that lead to 995 First Avenue, the former home of Stephen Harriman. Most of the facts regarding Harriman are learned later, after Red has fallen.
There is an unseen energy that pulls us closer toward the Harriman residence, as if we are curious hikers being lured toward a distant light. We climb the stairs of the small abode, sidestepping no fewer than six bodies before crossing the threshold into what had once been a quaint living room in suburban America. The room is lit by candlelight. The shadowy physical remains of two females–one adult and one child–are spread across the hardwood living room floor. The bodies have been badly mutilated by a serrated knife, the handle of which extends from the chest cavity of the adult female.
Stephen Harriman, tall and lean and dressed in slacks and an Oxford shirt, is slumped onto a sofa surrounded by blood-soaked pillows. His eyes glow white. He speaks one word, his voice vacant and distant: “Welcome.”
“What’s happened here?” I ask.
“Are you real? I mean, you’re not really here, are you?”
“Just . . . just tell us what you’ve done here.”
“What I’ve done? You wouldn’t know this, of course, but I’m what you might call an agoraphobic. I hate the outside world.”
“Get to the point,” Red says.
“I recently learned of an Eastern technique of known as the ‘Dome of Isola,’ by which an individual attains a higher level of existence through the construction of a mental ‘dome’ of isolation within oneself. It was while in this altered state that I experienced an epiphany. I realized that, rather than a dome of the mind, I could create a solid, physical barrier to protect myself from the world out there. Once the process had begun–ignited by the blood of . . . them–the dome appeared, blanketing the entire town. It’s become its own entity, feeding off the life forces of the inhabitants of this stupid little town.”
“How do we stop it?” I ask.
Harriman smiles and his glowing eyes fade from white to black as a high-pitched sound fills the tiny room. Outside, a different sound emerges, a growing thunder that builds in decibel with each passing moment. I gaze out through a dirty, cracked window, knowing what I will see before actually seeing it. The dome is expanding. I watch as five of the town’s residents are felled in as many seconds.
“What the hell are we supposed to do about this?” White asks me.
I have no answer.
White pauses, then replies with atypical calmness, employing the logic readily available to a man of his intellect: “I think the path is clear. We’re standing at ground zero, the epicenter of the dome. The dome itself is expanding while the individuals living within it are dying. The one-to-one correlation seems obvious. Question is, can we stop it?”
“You two had better think of something goddam fast,” Red insists.
There is much hurried discussion over what to do. We realize this is a conflict that cannot be resolved through physical violence. White begins to hypothesize that Harriman himself has become the conduit through which the dome exists and thrives.
“If that’s true,” Red says, “you know what we have to do.”
White’s is, at best, a guess, but an instant later we realize it’s correct. Harriman’s eyes open and he speaks to us. I understand, too late, why he’s permitted us entrance into this dome of isolation. The combined life force of The Red, White, and Blue is considerable, equaling if not exceeding the combined life forces of the inhabitants of Rapid Canyon. We’re here to sustain Harriman’s dome after the residents of Rapid Canyon have fallen, a moment that is quickly approaching.
Suddenly it’s there, in plain sight around his neck. Upon a thin, silver necklace. The symbol of the “love” generation, ”a circle divided vertically and subdivided on either side at 45-degree angles. A peace sign. It is small, perhaps an inch in diameter but radiates a flickering light that pulsates with heartbeat speed and regularity.
“It can’t really be that easy,” the Red remarks.
“One way to find out,” replies White.
Peter grasps the necklace from Harriman’s neck and pulls. Harriman’s eyes roll back in his head as he locks his right hand onto Peter’s wrist and begins to squeeze. There is a sharp splintering and snapping of bones followed by Peter’s anguished cry as he releases the necklace. I grip Harriman’s hand and begin dislodging his fingers from Peter’s wrist, breaking three of Harriman’s fingers in the process. Unaffected, Harriman reaches across and clutches my neck with his left hand. Despite three broken fingers his hold on Peter continues. Harriman’s fingers dig deep into my trachea. The dome responds violently to the life energies it is ingesting through Peter and me, as though the amount of energy is nearly too much to consume at once.
I am suddenly conscious of a sensation I’d never before experienced as I feel my life force being drained. I glance at Peter, who has visibly aged ten years in a matter of seconds. For the briefest of moments I welcome my impending death, oddly comforted that a weakness to my mortality has been found, but I quickly set aside any selfish thoughts regarding my own existence, realizing that countless lives have already been lost and many others will likely fall. Yet I am powerless to free myself from the madman’s deadly grip. A familiar black ocean begins calling to me to swim in its deep waters.
In the distance a voice speaks. It is strong with resolve but I hear it as a detached afterthought. Eventually I identify the voice as belonging to Red.
“Let me show you power,” Red says, and tears the necklace from Harriman, whose grip upon Peter and me instantly relaxes. Red’s energies are absorbed by the dome. Only then do I begin to comprehend the extent of Red’s power. Whatever inhuman forces Harriman had called into play in the casting of his isolation spell simply cannot absorb Red’s vast life energy en masse.
The overkill of energy sends shockwaves throughout Rapid Canyon. As the dome begins to splinter and crack, the sky over Rapid Canyon rains mystic shards. Red’s body radiates with white light as he collapses to the ground. He is broken and withered by age, with eyes sunken into his skull and flesh that is brittle and creviced. Outside, the first traces of sunlight become evident, their beams dissolving the blackness.
I carry Red out of the death house. He’s silent as sunlight washes across his face, but he smiles faintly. I cough involuntarily, reeling from the effects of the chokehold and the smoke that still hangs heavy in the air. White sits on the ground, staring at his shattered wrist.
Red’s fist slowly opens. His once muscular fingers are bone thin, wrinkled, and covered with age spots. The small metal peace sign he holds has melted. The liquid metal slowly rolls off the palm of his hands and lands in beads upon the grass.
We leave the town of Rapid Canyon, wounded, and very much changed, but alive. All of the dominoes of this day have fallen.
The Red, White, and Blue dissolve following the Rapid Canyon incident. There is little choice. Trace has become an old man, having sacrificed nearly all of his life force. Three weeks following Rapid Canyon we are awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Lyndon Johnson. Trace is no longer ambulatory and requires a wheelchair for mobility; he dies from heart failure two days after the ceremony.
Peter’s wrist injuries are substantial, the bones having been shattered. But he is likely to recover with rest and physical therapy. We both appear physically older. On August 26, 1968, days after Trace’s funeral, we bid one another farewell. The American Dream is not present. Weeks later, he reappears on the crime scene, though I know not for what reason. Nevertheless, I feel as though–
[At this point there is an eight-page gap in Lincoln’s journal. The pages appear to have been torn out, perhaps by Lincoln himself. But I have no way of knowing whether this was done by Lincoln or by another individual, purposefully or by accident. Lincoln’s life in the 1970s may forever remain a mystery, though at some point he reconnected with his daughter, as is evident in the text that follows…]
–would expect. I arrive at the brownstone in mid-afternoon and am greeted at the door by a bearded man in his forties. He a hospice worker tending to Janey’s care. I identify myself as a family friend. No doubt I, whose physical appearance is that of a man half the age of this stranger, would have been scrutinized or denied entrance had I identified myself as Janey’s father.
The house is quiet; its walls white and beige. There is a subtle elegance to the residence that is formal but at the same time relaxed and comfortable. The caregiver leads me to the second floor and a bedroom decorated in crimson and yellow. Shelves filled with Asian trinkets and bric-a-brac align every wall. A king-sized four-poster bed consumes most of the room. Janey’s diminutive form is barely noticeable beneath ivory-colored sheets and a silk comforter. The curtains are closed and the room is lit by vanilla-scented candles. I slowly approach the bed, catching a reflection of myself in an antique cheval glass as I cross the room. I am at once overwhelmed by guilt merely at being. Not at being here, with her, but at being.
We talk for several minutes. She is a very weak, and at ninety-two is dying of pneumonia due to a weakened immune system. Janey has refused hospitalization. I discuss this with her the advantages of hospital care.
She gazes at my face and smiles, though I’m unsure whether the smile is based on recognition. “I’ve lived a good life, but I’ve also lived long enough,” she says softly. There is nothing I can offer in terms of a rebuttal. I stare at the morphine drip. She is aged and in pain and has had enough of this existence.
Her voice is calm and faint, and she begins to describe the last time she saw Joshua. Her eyes flicker and she tells me that he is now in the room with us. Her eyelids close and she drifts off to sleep. I provide the caregiver with a phone number and ask that he contact me if Janey’s condition changes. He phones the following morning with the news that she has died.
Janey is buried atop a modest hill in the Village Green Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia, as per the instructions she’d left with her attorney. I visit the grave site privately on January 9, the morning following her burial. The winter sun rises just above a grove of oaks in the distance and I am reminded of a time many, many years gone by.
It occurred while we were relocating from West Virginia to New York, so many years ago. During this time we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Pocono Mountains, long before the area became a mecca for tourists. We’d lodged for several days at a modest inn at the base of Mt. Pocono. On the second day of our visit, Janey and Joshua ventured onto a walking trail. Several hours later they had not returned from their wanderings. We’d gone in search of them, and eventually discovered them atop a clearing, lying on the tall grass and staring peacefully at an azure sky.
“It’s beautiful here,” Janey remarked. “Can’t we stay here forever?”
“We have to go to New York,” I said.
Still lying on the grass, she’d extended her arms outward like the wings of an angel.
“When I die, this is where I want to be buried.”
“Me too, under a giant sequoia.” Joshua said.
“There are no sequoia’s here,” I explained.
“Well, there should be,” Janey answered, blissfully defiant of nature.
Until this moment, I’d forgotten that brief exchange. I stare at Janey’s grave and devise a plan, fully aware that I cannot possibly complete it alone.
It has been a daunting, seemingly impossible task. That we have succeeded still astounds me. It is a task that should not have been possible. But somehow we have done it, Peter and me.
We stand atop a grassy hill in the Pocono Mountains where, nearly a century earlier, my son and daughter had laid innocently discussing burials and sequoia trees. Peter and I stare upward at the circle of giant sequoias–trees that we have painstakingly transported from the California forests to this humble locale. The task has consumed nearly two years of our lives, though Peter has never once expressed concern or agitation at having given up so much of his time toward my insane obsession.
We stand atop this hill and stare upward in disbelief at our accomplishment. To do what we’ve done should have required the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of laborers. Men with massive trucks, cranes, and other mechanical constructs. We did it without the aid of machinery. We did it with muscle and resolve. This is how it was done:
Shortly after Janey’s death I contacted Peter, my colleague White in the former Red, White, and Blue, and asked for his help, knowing the enormity of the favor I was asking.
“I want us to uproot six sequoias from California’s Giant Grove forest and replant them on a hilltop in the Poconos.”
To my astonishment he accepted the challenge without so much as a moment’s hesitation.
The great behemoths were uprooted one by one, a process that took countless hours of nonstop digging. I uprooted each tree without Peter’s help, knowing I could easily accomplish the task given my unyielding strength. I relied on Peter’s unique mastery of flight, his command over sky and air, in transporting each of the giant trees from the West Coast to the East Coast. Like two modern-day genies aboard a magnificent wooden magic carpet, we sailed silently through the night, flying swiftly and ghostlike beneath the starlit skies. Because there were so many variables involved–most notably the weather, the seasons, and Peter’s extreme exhaustion following each flight (his recovery period typically ranged from weeks to months)–the transplantation process consumed nearly twenty-two months.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I tell him, as we both stare in wonder at the fruits of our labors.
“Think nothing of it.”
“No. I want to give you something.” I hand Peter a small wooden box, no larger than a cigar box.
“What is it?” Peter opens the box and is momentarily bathed by green light; he reflexively recloses it.
“You once asked me how it was I remain so young. This . . . this is how.” I recount to him my time in Hawkingsworth and explain the effects I experienced following exposure to the green stone. I recount how it changed me, how it might change him.
“It’s either a gift of a curse,” I explain. “I’ll leave that for you to decide.”
“What are you going to do next?” Peter asks.
“Unfinished family business.”
“Can I help you?”
“Thanks, Peter. You’ve done enough. And this work is best done alone.”
The work is finished. They are all here now. My parents. Veronica. Joshua. Janey. They are here, buried in the ground, each beneath one of the great sequoias. Over the last sixteen years I’ve exhumed their bodies from their former resting places and brought them here. Together. A family together. The sixth grave is mine. It is dug and it awaits me. Standing here, with those nearest to my heart now also near in proximity, I feel it is time.
I have lived several lifetimes, and spent each one trying to find a higher purpose. I’ve performed actions I believed were related to that purpose. Although I have considered myself a man who could not die, I will soon know for certain whether this claim holds any truth.
Tonight I shall lie in the grave and cover myself in the soil of the earth. Tonight I shall bid farewell to the world, and join my family in the hereafter. In short, I shall will myself to die.
Should this journal one day be found, the reader may choose to believe or disbelieve what I’ve chronicled. If said reader find himself atop a hillside in the Pocono Mountains, he may stop to ponder why there are six great sequoia trees here. He may wonder, indeed, whether a man who once lived a very long time has buried himself within the earth.
I watch a marigold sun sink slowly upon the distant horizon like the warm smile of an old friend. Time now to close this journal and do what I’ve come here to do.
And that is why I stand here now. I read his words and choose to believe the entirety of J. M. Lincoln’s narrative. Certainly there is historical evidence to validate much of what he penned. A simple Google search can yield dozens of articles on the rise and fall of The Red, White, and Blue. Ancestry web sites I’ve visited confirmed the deaths of Janey and Joshua. The supporting evidence can’t be ignored. Perhaps this is why I find myself today atop a hillside, asking why there are giant sequoias in this locale. I ask myself not whether a man who lived a very long time has buried himself in the earth, for I know in my heart that he lies just several feet beneath me. So I do not ask this question. Rather, I ask this question: Is the man who lived a long, long time and who buried himself beneath the earth in July 2000 succeed in willing himself to die? Has he joined his relatives in eternal rest? Or is he still alive beneath the soil? Still alive, willing himself to die but not dying? Wondering when and if he will, at last, be granted escape from the mortal world?
I stare at the rusted shovel several feet distant. The shovel upon which the rust is coated thick like sugary frosting. The handle of which is devoid of all but a trace of protective wood stain. I stare at this simple tool and continue to wonder. Before I am consciously aware of my actions, I find my hands are firmly gripped upon the shovel’s handle, and my foot is pressing the blade into the earth. There is a sound like the splintering of wood, or the tearing of parchment paper, as I slowly begin to force the shovel through tall grass and into the cold ground. The work is exhausting, and after ten minutes I pause to rest, body leaning against a tree as I quickly inhale and exhale. A chill wind blows across my face and, from the corner of my eye, something seems to move ever so slightly. The shovel, half-buried in the dirt, falls suddenly to the ground. I pause to laugh at my own paranoia. And then, for one moment, I hesitate, unsure as to whether I’m seeing shadows of the grass blowing atop the hill, or whether the soil is, in fact, rising up.