Part 60 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
The dark sky and the wind driven sleet had done little to dissuade the small group of mourners who had gathered by the two grave sites to pay their final respects. There were no dry eyes gazing upon the coffins of those who had been so tragically taken from them.
The pastor, who had braved the elements without a topcoat, closed his Bible and looked over the small assemblage before him. Ignoring the sting of the frozen droplets on his face, he lowered his head and invited those present to join him in prayer.
Following the chorused Amens he approached and offered condolences to each person there. He ended his visitations by kneeling before a distraught woman confined to a wheel chair. He gestured the sign of the cross and whispered words of encouragement to her. He rose to his feet, turned and walked away.
Once her companion had pushed the wheel chair closer to the grave sites, Rosie laid a single red rose upon the closest casket and raised a tissue to her face. Next, she leaned forward and placed an outstretched hand upon the second casket, that of a dear friend.
Her companion Stu knelt beside her and rubbed her hands. Though she and Stu had known each other for many years, it had taken the tragic losses of the departed to draw them closer into an intimate kinship. They stayed there for a few minutes sharing a private exchange before moving away.
Sergeant Brock O'Day, resplendent in his dress uniform offered the couple a few condolatory words and stepped aside to allow them to pass. His hands folded across his belt and his head lowered, he stood silent before the twin coffins. He ignored the tears forming in each eye. He was thankful that through recent events he had gained a renewed friendship with the man after so many years of mutual dislike.
He nodded to the approaching old man, who on matching canes was struggling to get nearer to the caskets of the man and woman. He whispered to the encased couple and asked for their forgiveness, because if not for his work they would on that day still be among the living. Bishop King was ailing and he vowed to them that he would soon be joining them.
A young couple had opted to stand in the background away from the other mourners. They had been watching in silence as the others in turn had been paying their final respects.
They had felt both pity and sorrow for the old man, for only they among those present shared in the knowledge of the cancer that was rapidly killing him. Only they knew of the guilt that was consuming him. He had expressed to none other that he was tired of living and that he would welcome and embrace death.
They had observed the curious exchange between O'Day and his wife. Faye had refused to approach the grave sites, remaining instead by the cemetery gate several hundred yards away. If she was bidding goodbyes to her ex-husband and niece, it was hidden within her and not visibly expressed.
Tears of happiness had dampened their faces when Stu had appeared guiding Rosie in the wheel chair. It was heart warming to see that those two lonely people had found mutual companionship, if only in the face of tragedy.
For most of his life, the only love Stu had ever known was a press room, printing presses and the smell of fresh ink upon large rolls of pulp paper. His closest friends had been UPI and Reuters.
The pair had been weeping openly for Rosie. She alone among them had suffered the most. She alone had lost the most. Long ago, the only man she'd ever loved had died in a mysterious accident, but he'd left her pregnant. Led to believe that she had given birth to a stillborn daughter, she had given up on the dream of ever having a family.
When, twenty-five years later she'd learned that her daughter was in fact alive, a new hope and purpose in life was given to her. It was with tragic irony that she would only get one chance to hold her long lost daughter, alas, it was while Susan lie dying in her arms.
If all of that tragedy had not been enough for any one person, Rosie had to still bear another cruel blow to her sanity. While being linked to Ben Bering's mind she had been holding Susan's hand. His name her last word, and her name upon his lips, Susan and Ben had died at precisely the same moment. Rosie had felt the very departure of the two souls from this world.
Their thoughts were interrupted by a commotion just outside the main cemetery gate. They hurried to the scene to find that Bishop King had slipped and fallen on the ice covered sidewalk. Brock O'Day and his wife Faye had already come to his assistance. Hovering over him, they managed to help him back onto his feet and had steadied him until he was balanced on his canes.
He turned and nodded to the younger couple. They returned the gesture. The simple act was an acknowledgment of gratitude for the new lease on life he'd given them. It also assured the old man that he'd made the right choice, that they would accept the responsibilities and challenges he had tendered them.
Although keenly aware of their presence, they ignored the three men in dark suits stationed by the perimeter of the cemetery. They couldn't help but dread the thought that the mysterious and ruthless agents were not going to disappear from their lives. Quite the contrary, they knew that one or more of them would be ever lurking in the shadows watching them.
They were the last of the mourners remaining. They touched lips for a moment and hand in hand walked toward the spot where Susan and Ben awaited interment. Kneeling before the pair of caskets, Michelle and Michael lowered their heads and wept.
Eighteen months later, Michael swept Michelle off her feet and carried her over the threshold into the honeymoon suite. Once inside, he let her feet swing gently onto the floor. Yet in the arms of the other, they kissed long and hard.
"I love you, Michael," she said looking into his eyes.
"...And Michelle, I love you."
He placed his hands on her shoulders and held her at arms length. "You know, something?" he said. "All of these clothes are in the way."
She giggled and replied, "Spoken like a horny man." She winked and added, "This horny woman is one hundred percent in agreement!"
A puzzled look came to his face as something on the nightstand caught his attention. "What's that package over there?"
She picked it up and answered, "It's from Stu and Rosie! I wonder what it is."
Michael moved behind her and placed his arms about her waist as she began tearing at the wrapping. She gasped with delight, "It's Ben's book!"
Looking over her shoulder Michael read aloud the title, "The Strange Story of Mr. Black and Ms Gray."
She sighed and said sadly, "It might not be a front page story, but at least the story he wanted to tell has finally been published. Stu called in a lot of favors to get the book published, but it's a shame they would only print it as a work of fiction."
Michael mused, "It's also a shame they didn't use the title you suggested, Michelle. The story is as much about them and their love as it is about us. "The Strange Story of Ben and Susan" would have been more fitting."
She positioned her cheek against his chest and said, "How sad their love was not fulfilled." She placed a finger near her eye to catch a tear that had formed there, "My heart aches for Rosie most of all. That poor woman may have saved the rest of us, but how awful the price she had to pay!"
"Yes, but it was King who paid the ultimate price. He warned Rosie that the procedure in theory should work but it had not been tested, and that it was not without its risks. He instructed her that once their minds were coupled, all of that brain wave activity and the electrical energy from the overloaded circuits could cause irreparable harm to the two of them."
Vivid imagery of that evening in King's secret hospital wing began playing in their heads.
King was seated at the head of a large conference table and said to the group seated with him, "As I said before, this has never been attempted. It may or not succeed." He cleared his throat and looked in the direction of Stu Jankowski and said to him, "Stu, you are the only one present who has never been subjected to a mind link. As such, I would like for you to record, by what ever means you choose, what happens here today."The visual images dissipated from their minds and they stared into each other's eyes. "I remember that you could have heard a pin drop in that room it was so quiet," Michelle said.
He studied their attentive faces and addressed them, "Michael, Michelle, David, myself and you too, Rosie, have all been mind-linked not only to one another, but also, if only briefly, to Ben and Susan. You are all familiar with the trace memories left behind in our own minds from the minds of those with whom we've been linked. Those trace memories are not unlike web cookies that are deposited in our computers by the sites we have visited."
David, the intern who had been employed by King at the Check Mate facility said, "You are hoping that the common cookies from Michelle and Michael in our respective heads when combined with the power surge will allow them to return to their original bodies."
"That is correct, David," he replied. "Hoping, however, is the operative word here."
Rosie shifted in her chair and seemed to be apprehensive. "Mr. King, it would be a wonderful thing for those two to return to their natural bodies, but something else is bothering me."
"What is it that bothers you so, Rosie?" King asked.
"Well, when I looked at the tables in the other room, I couldn't help but notice that there are dozens of wires on the bodies of both Ben and my daughter Susan. What is their purpose? Is that really necessary?"
He smiled and said, "Believe me, Rosie, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the dead. As for Ben and Susan, they were still exhibiting a detectable measure of brain activity, although very slight." He paused for effect before continuing, "There is a chance, perhaps only one in a million, that when our combined minds are concentrating on Michael and Michelle, some of the trace memories of Ben and Susan might stimulate their brain wave activity."
She gasped audibly, "You mean ... are you saying there is chance that they can be brought back from the dead?"
"Just the suggestion of the possibility of resurrecting the dead came as quite a shock to all of us who were there," Michael stated. "It came as no surprise, that to a person, we were all for letting King try it." He lowered his head and said in dismay, "Of course, it didn't work. It didn't happen."
Michelle sighed, "There were things that happened, things that were expected and some that weren't."
"Who would've thought that a preexisting health condition could be mutated to such an accelerated rate? I don't think Bishop King was all that concerned about the small malignant tumor on his pancreas when he initiated that group mind linkage," Michael said.
Michelle touched her fingers to the corners of her eyes where more tears were forming. "Rosie had no way of knowing that she was in the earliest stages of Parkinson's Disease. It had never been detected."
"When Rosie collapsed after the mind links were severed, we thought it was because of the enormous strain from the process. When she slipped into a coma, we thought she might not ever wake up again," he uttered. It was his turn to attempt to suppress his own tears. "It was tragic when she awoke partially paralyzed and unable to speak. God bless Stu for being there for her."
"When we accepted King's invitation to visit him the day before the funeral services and burial, I was shocked to see how emaciated he'd become in only a matter of days," Michelle averred. "I was so upset over his physical condition, that I didn't realize what he was saying to us until later."
Michael nodded, "You have to admit that the news he had for us was quite shocking too!"
"Well ... yes," she replied, "I'm still shocked about that. I mean, how often are ordinary people like ourselves named sole heirs to a vast empire estimated to be worth a lot of dollars with a lot more numbers and zeroes than we could have ever imagined in our wildest dreams?"
"He knew he wasn't long for the world," he said. "Three days after Ben and Susan were laid to rest ... he died."
"He made it clear to us that he felt he'd lived longer than any one man had the right to live, a hundred sixty-one years, and he had done so by cheating death several times over. He asked us to swear that we would not make the same mistakes he had made," Michelle voiced.
"It was his last words to us, just before he died, that still haunt me, Michelle." The young man's face was solemn as he looked upon his lovely bride.
Bishop King's haggard face was visible in their minds, just as it had appeared only minutes before his final breath. He gasped for air as he struggled to speak."I know, Michael. Those final words are bothering me too."
"It is not over. You must remain alert. You must not bury my work with me. The others are strong and they are growing stronger. We did not stop them."
He looked up at them and whispered between fits of coughs, "We ... you have two things they do not ... Rosie and ... the butterflies." Then he was gone.
Michael took a couple of steps backward and growled playfully, "Enough of this dwelling on the past. I'm interested in the here and now." He moved over to the bed and continued, "I want you here and naked now!"
Moments later, standing by the bed with their naked bodies locked in embrace, she stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, "I know we have to be careful. But just this one time, on this one special night, can we not honor the memory of Ben and Susan and still respect our new life?"
He placed his fingertips on her lips and replied, "I can think of no reason to deny your request. For the record, I was going to suggest the same thing."
They collapsed onto the bed, their limbs intertwined and kissed with hungry fervor. His lips still touching hers he whispered, "Now, is the time and place."
She found him and squeezing gently cooed, "I love you so much, Ben Bering!"
"I love you, Susan."