The Skull In The River

by Ingrid Dean

skull-517599_1280As a forensic artist and road patrol trooper for the State Police, I have worked on many interesting cases. Little did I know that a cardboard box placed on my desk one sweltering August day would contain one of the most challenging and emotional cases of my career. A year earlier I had completed a facial reconstruction course at the FBI Academy in Quantico.

The box contained a human skull and was my second skeletal case. The first case I worked on was still unsolved—the charred body of a black female was still at the morgue, waiting to be identified. This new case held little more promise. It had already sat on a property room shelf for nine years.

As I leafed through the police reports, I learned that the skull had been dredged out of the Clinton River, which runs through Mt. Clemens, Michigan, in 1992. A construction worker on a bulldozer thought he had found the “biggest mushroom he had ever seen.” When he jumped off the earthmover to kick it from its position in the soggy marsh, he was shocked to discover it was actually a human cranium. The rest of the body, including the lower jaw, was never recovered.

Although missing person reports were carefully checked, the skull remained unidentified and was packed away in a property room at the sheriff’s office. In the summer of 2003, the property room was cleaned out and the skull was sent to a Michigan State Police crime lab for possible DNA and comparison purposes. One of the senior members at the lab suggested it be sent to a forensic artist to do a reconstruction. Several weeks later, the skull was placed on my desk.

First I took it to the Michigan State University Anthropology Lab, where I asked the anthropologist to examine it and give me a biological profile of who the person I would be reconstructing. He told me it belonged to a Caucasian male, between the ages of eighteen and thirty. Since I wanted to do a three-dimensional reconstruction with clay, the missing mandible posed a huge problem. The lab was nice enough to let me borrow a specimen from a body that had been donated.

I fished through several boxes of bones in the lab labeled “Caucasian males” before finding one with a similar bite pattern. With my borrowed jawbone and several x-rays of the seven teeth that were left in the cranium, I took the skull back to my post to start work.

For the next eight months, I juggled the reconstruction in between normal working duties. As the face began to emerge, I began to get a feeling about what this man must have looked like. For instance, I could see that his teeth had been extremely well cared for. He could afford a dentist and he took good care of himself. From this I assumed his socio-economic place in life.

I also surmised that he was good looking. Since the skull was dredged out of the river in 1992, I figured he must have been in the water for some time to become completely disarticulated and skeletal. Therefore, I guessed his hairstyle would be from the late 1980s or early 1990s. I decided to sculpt a longer, falling-behind-the-ears hairstyle, in brown, since that is the dominant hair color of the Caucasian race. I also gave him brown eyes—both an intuitive and practical guess. I reminded myself that a reconstruction doesn’t have to look exactly like the person—but there has to be something about it that triggers a sense of recognition in just one person who sees it and thinks, Hmmm, that might be so-and-so.

Finally in April 2004, the reconstruction was ready to be released to the media. I held a press conference and was shocked to find that almost every media source in the metropolitan-Detroit area showed up to get the story. The following days were filled with newscasts, phone calls, and interviews.

About a week later, a District Sergeant who worked as an accident re-constructionist in my district phoned me. He had seen a photo of my reconstruction in the Detroit Free Press and it reminded him of a young guy who had gone missing from the Algonac area when he was a road patrol officer there. He said the guy’s name was Shawn Raymond.

Since this was my first real tip, I didn’t have any particular feeling or hope that this was going to go anywhere. I went to the Clay Township Police Department and asked if I could see the Shawn Raymond case. The officers were all too familiar with the case. Shawn’s file revealed that his mother had reported him missing after he was not seen for two days. Shawn was nineteen at the time and a recent graduate of Algonac High School. There were several photos of Shawn in the file, including one of his high school yearbook photos. I noticed he was an incredibly good looking guy, with feather-brown hair and a glowing white smile—just like I had imagined.

I didn’t immediately see a resemblance between the clay sculpture and Shawn, though I did notice Shawn’s dental charts. There was crucial information on these charts. The skull and Shawn had the same two bicuspids removed for orthodontic purposes. This was a clue I could not ignore. I immediately took the case back to my post and began calling to locate Shawn’s dentist to get x-rays for comparison.

The first dentist led me to a dead end, literally. His wife sorrowfully informed me that her husband’s practice had closed after his death and she had destroyed all the remaining records, including the x-rays. My stomach lurched. I thought, Is this the end of my investigation?

I feverishly pressed the keys on my telephone to call Shawn’s orthodontist. Amazingly, he was still practicing in the area. And, yes, he still had Shawn’s file, which included panoramic x-rays of Shawn’s teeth. I picked them up a day later.

I was ready to put my anthropology degree to the test and compare the dental films. As I drove the x-rays back to the post, I phoned my dad, who has thirty years experience as a trooper, detective, and forensic artist. I chatted with him nervously, telling him, “It’s got to be him. There are so many coincidences!”

My dad urged me to be calm. “Now, settle down. This is only your first tip,” he said.

Back at the post, I scotch-taped the bite-wing x-rays I had taken at MSU to my office window and then, with hands shaking, taped the panoramic film from Shawn’s orthodontist file underneath it. Undeniably, even to my little-trained eyes . . . it was a match! Now all I needed was the final okay from an ontologist—a forensic dentist. I sought one out in the area and made an appointment to meet with him at his office the following day.

Morning seemed like it would never come. I had several conversations with my dad, who continued to tell me, “Don’t get your hopes up too high.” But I was beyond help. In my mind, I knew it had to be Shawn. There was nothing that was going to convince me otherwise (except, maybe, this expert I was about to meet).

As I drove to his office, I tried to calm myself down. I had thoughts like, What if it isn’t him? What if I have to start all over again? My stomach was in complete knots. A soft rain was falling as I approached the parking lot and turned in. I made one last call to dad and told him, “I’ll phone you with the answer as soon as I’m out!”

When I met the dentist, I sized him up to be on his last year or two before retirement. He was elderly. He had me set the reconstruction on a stool and took his own panoramic films of the skull through the clay. I guess he didn’t like the bite wings I brought with me as proof. When his x-rays were developed, he held up Shawn’s films and the freshly taken films to the fluorescent lighting above him. He nonchalantly said, “Nope, that’s not him.”

I was dumbfounded. My heart sank. I fought off tears and began to tremble. Here I was, in my professionally tailored uniform, holding a human skull encased in twenty-five pounds of clay, and I was fighting to choke back tears. I mumbled to him, softly at first, “No, you’re wrong . . .”

As my vision cleared and I regained my composure, I took a quick glance at the films he still held in his hands. Still fighting tears of disappointment, I stated clearly and louder, without reservation, “No, you’re WRONG!” I snatched the films from his hand. He had been holding one of the films backward! I handed them back to him the correct way. He raised the films toward the lights again and—without hesitation—said, “Yup, that’s him!”

The trip from his room to my car seemed like I was running in slow motion. Once I was in my car, I dialed my phone. “Dad, it’s him!” And, for the next half-hour, I sobbed. At least my tears were of joy and not sorrow. I was so glad that Shawn was found, and I was thankful that his family would find out that he was no longer missing, that his remains had indeed been identified.

Note: Facial reconstruction requires both scientific and intuitive work to successfully identify someone. Features such as the nose, lips, style of hair, etc., are almost strictly intuitive guesses.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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A Special Spot

by Ingrid Dean

wolves-58998_1280Worried parents reported that their sixteen-year-old son was missing. They thought he had run away, but they had no idea where. When I arrived at their home, something didn’t feel right. I asked the parents more questions than usual. I asked if the boy got good grades in school and if he had any troubles he was dealing with. They said his grades had gone down recently and that he was on anti-depressants.

When the parents mentioned anti-depressants, I got a very clear thought: This is not a runaway complaint. I don’t know why the word anti-depressant triggered this thought, because usually it doesn’t mean anything to me. I know that anti-depressants are often very helpful to people, even children.

I looked in the boy’s bedroom and saw two unopened packs of cigarettes by his bed. I thought, What sixteen-year-old boy leaves two packs of cigarettes behind? Most teenagers carry their cigarettes with them, especially if their parents allow them to smoke. This was the second hint that the incident was not what it appeared to be.

I didn’t want to ask, but I did: “Do you have any weapons in the house?” The father said yes and that he had already looked. All of the cases were present. I asked if he had opened the cases, and he said no. I told him to go check. When he returned, he reported that a rifle, a Ruegar .280, was missing. I suddenly knew their son was probably dead, but I didn’t say anything. Not yet. It was the third clear thought that came through my mind.

I got the urge to take a look outside. Sure enough, I found footwear impressions in the snow that appeared to be the boy’s— and they seemed to lead into the woods.

The snow was patchy this time of year, so I called Dispatch for canine assistance. While I waited for the dog and handler to arrive, I telephoned the boy’s best friend. I asked if there were any special spots where the boy might have walked. I knew most teenagers have one. Because the snow was minimal, I knew that even with a dog, it might be difficult to track the boy unless I had an idea where to head. Sure enough, the boy had a special spot.

When the canine officer arrived, the dog picked up a scent. It was an overcast winter day. The canine handler, the dog, and I followed the boy’s scent toward his special spot. I was glad I had called the boy’s best friend for directions so that I knew we were on the right track. As we walked I realized how breathtaking this area is. The near-pristine woodlands, hilly terrain, and sand dunes of Leelanau County, Michigan, are absolutely gorgeous. The smell of the pines was pungent and pure. What a pity this young man has taken his own life, when there is so much to love about this land and life. I already knew we’d find him dead.

We continued to follow the boy’s scent. The trees opened up into a small open area in the woods. This was his special spot. We saw him. He had shot his head off with the missing rifle. I was so thankful I had trusted my intuition and hadn’t allowed the boy’s parents to come with us. The bloody scene was too gory for any parent ever to see.

Although it was hard and their grief unbearable, the boy’s parents were relieved I had found their son.

I thought about this case several times afterward. If I had treated this situation like a routine runaway complaint, the boy’s body might never have been found. Corpses are often eaten by animals—sometimes without a trace left—especially in this area of Northern Michigan known for its vultures, eagles, and coyotes. I am sure many of my fellow comrades also rely on intuitive thoughts. Most of us seldom, if ever, talk about it, of course. Policemen are expected to rely on logic and “just the facts.”

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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The Fatal Vortex

by Ingrid Dean

It seems like only yesterday when I was sent to a house alarm call that could have resulted in fatalities. Typically most calls are false alarms. Whether the wind blows open a shutter or a resident accidentally sets off the alarm—usually house alarms are harmless. I believe that only by Divine grace am I alive today to share this story . . .

I pull into the driveway at the same time the key holder arrives. The key holder is the person an alarm company calls when a house alarm goes off. In this case, it is the homeowner’s thirty-year-old son.

I tell the man to stay by his car until I secure the area. He says, “I know my mother is home and everything’s cool, but I don’t know what is going on.”

I check the doors, windows, and garage entranceway for any possible forced entry, but everything looks secure. I say, “Go ahead and open the garage door.” I remind him to stay by his car
while I check the inside of the house.

I enter the dimly lit garage and walk to the door that leads into the house. I knock on the door and announce, “State Police!” and push open the door.

At that moment, a white-haired elderly woman steps out of nowhere and slowly points a .20 gauge shotgun directly in my face!

Even though I have turned on the garage light, she doesn’t seem to notice I am a uniformed trooper. In my attempt to escape the “fatal vortex” and un-holster my weapon, I stumble backward but do not fall. The fatal vortex is that hypothetical space we’re taught about in school; that space shaped like a funnel that you never want to be caught in.

I was definitely at the tip of that funnel. I had no safety zone and no spatial advantage.

As I try not to lose my balance, I hear CLICK. The old lady has actually pulled the trigger! Not only does this sound signify my life may instantly be over, but it also means she means to shoot!

Somehow I know this woman is the resident and not an intruder. I wonder why I didn’t draw my weapon before I stepped into the garage, which is what we are taught to do as a precaution. I am grateful I didn’t because I might have shot her if my gun had been in my hand. I yell at her repeatedly, “I’m a police officer! I’m a police officer! Don’t shoot! Look at my uniform! I’m a police officer!”

The woman’s son starts yelling at her, too. Who knows what this woman is thinking? How can she not see my uniform? It takes both of us to convince her I am the police and not there to hurt her. It is a miracle she does not kill me.

After I settled her down, I asked, “What were you thinking? Didn’t you hear me knocking at the door? Didn’t you hear me say ‘state police’? Why didn’t you call 911? They would have told you who was knocking! When you press the panic button for the alarm, police are supposed to come and help you, right?” (According to the alarm company, she had pressed the panic button.)

As I’m scolding her and trying to regain my composure, I open the double-barrel action to make the weapon safe. Out pops a shotgun shell! I can see that shell moving in slow motion . . . jumping out of the chamber into the air . . . spiraling . . . twirling . . . dancing . . . and then finally hitting the floor with a THUNK and rolling to its final resting place between my two feet. I didn’t have to pick it up to know it was a heavy unspent round and that by the grace of God the gun hadn’t fired.

It humbled me to realize how close I had come to death. And, to make matters worse, I found out she was the widow of a state trooper. I could have killed a fellow trooper’s wife!

I shot the gun outdoors. There was nothing wrong with it! The woman pulled the trigger—I should have been killed.

There are some things that have happened to me in this job that I just don’t talk about. This is one of them. I don’t know why I didn’t shoot that woman, especially after she pulled the trigger. How did I know she was really a “good guy?” Whatever you want to call it—intuition, a sixth sense, or an angel—I depended on it—and we are both alive.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

By Skip willits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it must’ve been a Saturday or Sunday. I used to work a nine-to-five job back then and I remember spending the whole day with you. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t the weekend.”

Jefferson was listening to his father. It was getting late in the afternoon. The sunlight on the floor was decidedly angled and creating shadows that stretched halfway across the room. He looked at the window. He couldn’t see the sun yet but it would probably shine through the glass soon. He shifted slightly so that when it did it wouldn’t shine in his eyes.

“My boss wouldn’t have allowed that…” His father was still talking. “It’s funny though. I can remember spending time with you like it was yesterday. Even from something like this, from when you were a little, tiny person, but I can’t even remember his name…”

After a moment, he continued, “You’d think if I remembered anything, it’d be his name…” He thought about it, losing sight of the here and now.

“Hm. I guess that’s as good an indication as any of what’s really important. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with someone or trying to do something. The things you remember, the things that’re important, stand out. They come back easily and clearly, even if they only occupy a single moment in time.”

They sat in silence as that unfolded. Henry’s eyes glinted a tiny bit. They were facing each other in a drawing room. Their over-stuffed chairs were soft and inviting. Jefferson saw his dad run his hand over the upholstery of the chair arm, admiring its texture. He noticed that he was rubbing his hand over the upholstery, too. How long had that been going on?

He noticed the smell that lingered over the place. It was like a palpable thing that had, for reasons of its own, moved into the house; an invisible resident of the house, always present, never seen. His dad didn’t seem to notice.

He supposed that every living thing had to have its own smell. After all, bloodhounds had to smell something and there were two people living in the house now – his father and step-mother. Did he have a smell? He supposed that he had to. That thought bothered him. “What about that weekend, dad? What stands out for you?”

“Hm…” Henry let the conversation dangle as he rummaged through his memories. He was silent for so long that Jefferson almost said something but just as he was about to speak up, Henry continued. “Sand. I remember sand. And the smell of the ocean. What do you remember?”

“I don’t remember anything of that day.”

“Yeah, I guess you were about 1½. Probably too young. It was before we moved across country. We were still in New York. I don’t know where your mother was that day. I guess I was already doing things alone with you, even though she and I were years away from the divorce.”

He paused. The divorce had been a sore subject once, but that had been a long time ago. Henry was fine now. He had been for a long time. He had gotten used to the fact that his first marriage had failed. In fact, that failure was a vital part of his growth. The divorce itself was a part of a healing process that had led to many important insights for him. It was an early part of the process but it was an important part.

For reasons of his own, though, Jefferson had been angry. He’d nursed a grudge for a long time – long after his parents’ divorce was final. He’d fed it and it had grown. As it grew, it seemed to consume him. He’d let it grow to the point that it threatened to eclipse his whole life. But that was over now. Maybe the anger was a necessary part of his growth. Either way, Jefferson had gotten to the point where he was constantly amazed with how life unfolded.

“Anyway,” Henry went on, “we were living in New York City and I took it into my head for some reason to take you to the beach. I don’t think you’d ever seen the ocean before. I didn’t bother trying to explain it. I just said that we were going someplace special and that you would enjoy it. That was enough. That was enough for you.” Henry’s voice trailed off.

“You had complete faith in me.” He was quiet for a long time.

“You used to love water. Any water, really, but especially moving water. Do you still?”

“I don’t know.” said Jefferson. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He thought about it. Henry waited.

“… but I notice now that I don’t associate movement with water. When I think of water, there may be waves but the body of water is still. I have to remind myself that there’s movement.

“When I think of movement I picture people dancing across a dance floor or machinery moving – or their parts, anyway. Solid things. I don’t picture moving water.”

“Maybe that’s why moving water was so fascinating for you.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“You used to stare contentedly at a river or a lake. You wouldn’t budge. You could stare at it for hours. The larger the body of water was, the more fascination it seemed to hold for you. Maybe it was the promise it seemed to carry.

“You could gaze at a fountain forever. I remember pushing you through a mall in a stroller and coming across a fountain. We watched the fountain for a while. When I tried to leave, you complained. You didn’t want to leave! You were so disappointed.” He trailed off again, remembering the baby Jefferson used to be. After a moment he continued.

“So anyway, on that day we drove to Jones Beach. At least I think it was Jones Beach…

“It was late enough in the season that the beach was pretty much deserted. I remember a boardwalk. It was still fairly new back then.

“When you caught your first sight of the ocean, you stood transfixed. You were young enough that you didn’t have many words, yet, but I could feel your wonder. It seemed like you’d never guessed that there could be so much water in the world.

“You just stared at the waves and the vastness of the water. As I recall, you finally moved only because you wanted to stay with me.

“Together we crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the boardwalk. It curved to the right, out onto the beach and around the building where they sold snacks and drinks but the building was closed.

“We must have walked over a mile out along the boardwalk. You were a little guy, so that was a long way for you but you weren’t tired. You almost danced along, watching the water.

“After a while I noticed that the sand had gotten into your shoes and socks. I sat you down on the next bench that we passed with your legs pointing straight out. Even so, your ankles just cleared the edge of the bench. I took your shoes off and they were tiny in my hand. I knocked them against the bench. Then I took off your socks, turned them inside-out, and shook the sand out of the little loops and fibers. Then, after turning them back, I brushed your feet off, tops and bottoms but mostly the soles of your feet. I remember the feel of your feet in my hand.

“I even went between your little toes and into the crevice between your toes and the balls of your feet to make sure no sand remained. Then I pulled your socks and shoes back on before you hopped down.

“You smiled at me and watched me, the water completely forgotten. After that, you wanted to sit down on every bench we passed. You even got sand in your socks deliberately.” Henry smiled, remembering. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “It was an extraordinary moment that we shared together although you don’t remember it. I never told anyone about it before…

“…it’s been a private memory. I wasn’t hiding it from anyone. It was just something that only I held…”

He sat silently and then said with a sigh, “I never thought about it that way before – as something private or just mine. I’ve only ever been aware of the care it showed. Of the amount of care that we both had for each other. I don’t know if you knew how much you empowered my life…

He caught himself, lost in the rush of emotions. All of his airways suddenly seemed too small and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth but his mouth was dry. Nevertheless he made several swallowing motions to release the tension. When his throat relaxed enough for him to continue, Henry concluded, “…I liked it, too.” A tiny tear formed in the corner of one eye. Henry wiped it away.

They sat together for a while, each one seeing his own silent world yet each one keeping the other company. Then Henry said, “I can’t remember the walk back or the drive home but I remember walking along the boardwalk with you and you wanting to sit down on every bench we passed and give me your feet. I remember cleaning your feet.”

After a while Jefferson said, “Thanks, Dad. I never knew.”

Then he said, “Brooke is waiting for me. I said that I would meet her.”

He got up and headed for the door. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll see you next time!” Then he was gone.

Henry sat in his chair and savored the evening. At last he got up and padded through the door and down the hall. He entered the kitchen and switched on the light. The dogs were both in their crate, eagerly sitting up and vigorously wagging their tails. It was time for their walk and they knew it.

“Okay, okay, you guys. I haven’t forgotten.” Henry opened the door to the crate and they exploded out and bounded to the door. Chuckling, he followed and grabbed their leashes and the little strap-on rosin bag that they used to carry treats and bags.

Helen would be home soon. He clipped the leashes to their collars and followed them out into the gathering night. He smiled into the dark as they went on their walk together.

###

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Ghost Alarm

by Ingrid Dean

ghost alarmSome police officers can never turn off their “light switch,” even while on vacation. They always notice peculiar things!

In 1997, my wife and I rented an old one-bedroom cottage for a month on the island of Boca Grande, which lies on the Gulf Coast north of Ft. Myers. My wife had written to the Chamber of Commerce on the island and learned about this cottage. The owner was contacted, and she explained that at one time it had been a fisherman’s cottage and later the caretaker’s cottage for a much larger home next door. The name of the cottage was Journey’s End.

When we arrived, the lessor greeted us and entertained us with some of the local lore. One story she told was of a murder that had occurred either in the cottage we rented or in the large house next door. I do not remember which, but it was rumored both of the houses were haunted.

The cottage was old but clean and the view of the Gulf was magnificent. We saw dolphins in the water in front of the cottage each morning. It was exactly the type of vacation we wanted.

After we had been there about a week, my wife and I went to bed one evening about eleven o’clock. Shortly after turning out the lights, the fire alarm above our bed rang very loudly! We nearly jumped out of our skins. It continued for a significant period of time, perhaps thirty seconds, then quit.

I quickly turned on the lights and looked for smoke. There was none. My wife and I are nonsmokers. I checked the house thoroughly for some sign of smoke or combustion, but there was none. I then decided to remove the battery so that the alarm would not sound again, as the noise was deafening.

I got a chair and stood on it to reach the alarm. When I opened the cover, I discovered there was no battery in the alarm! My wife also confirmed the fact that the alarm had no battery.

Did residual power cause the alarm to ring? We had been in the cottage for a week without the alarm sounding. Any residual current would have been dissipated. The alarm was connected to no other power source. There was no combustion or smoke present. It was the simple type of circular alarm with plastic housing that operated from a 9-volt battery. It never sounded again during our stay.

How could this have happened?

 

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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This Time, I Was the Victim

by Ingrid Dean

robbingIt was the beginning of the 2003 holiday season when my wife and I were invited to a holiday fundraiser at a posh restaurant in Detroit’s Indian Village area. The purpose was to raise money for less fortunate inner-city kids so they could be supplied with shoes for the upcoming winter.

I did my homework on the event. The mayor and some federal judges were also invited, so I trusted that their security details would have things well in hand. Thus, I did not fear for my wife’s and my safety or that of the other guests, including a police lieutenant from my department and his wife.

The entertainment, food, and drinks were fantastic. A very nice evening, even though the mayor never showed nor did any of the federal judges or other celebrities as promised.

Things were winding down for the evening. The valet girl found me and gave me the keys to my vehicle, saying she was going off duty and would no longer be responsible for my truck. Then, she ran out the door. I went to the door to look for my truck, saw it, and was returning to the restaurant when two gunmen broke in, rushed me with a gun pointed directly at my face, grabbed me by the necktie, and forced me into the dining room. One of them fired a shot next to my head and announced the hold-up. I went to the ground and a second shot was fired, fragmenting when it hit a $40,000 grand piano. A fragment of the slug struck a lady.

I was not armed, as I believed the mayor’s security detail would be present. It’s a good thing I wasn’t because if my weapon were seen I am positive I would have become another Detroit
homicide statistic.

I believed I was going to be shot in the head as I lay face down on the floor. I threw my cash on the floor, as the gunman demanded everybody’s wallets. My wallet had a badge and police ID in it. If that were revealed, I most assuredly would have been shot.

For some unknown reason, I envisioned a crime scene photo with me lying face down on the floor with my brains spilling out of my skull. I was not about to allow that to happen. My wife was only a few feet away, hiding underneath a table. She appeared to be okay.

I began to pray, and I felt the presence of a guardian angel. The fear left me and I was able to focus on the criminals’ actions so that I might become the best witness and see them led off to prison in handcuffs.

I threw my wallet under a table and it landed face open with the badge in full sight. I flipped it closed. How they never saw this had to be the work of an angel.

I was kicked in the groin as the number two gunman gathered up the cash and wallets. They went to a second dining room and I heard screaming and another gunshot. Then all was silent. I immediately called 911 to report the armed robbery with shots fired. I was still on the phone when the first patrol officer arrived, calming everyone and checking for injuries. Before I knew it, there were uniformed officers all over.

Suspects were being picked up in the neighborhood and brought back to the scene, but I couldn’t identify any of them. My wife and I were thankful to go home alive that night with only relatively minor injuries.

About a week later, we were sitting in our kitchen having our Saturday morning coffee, watching the local Detroit news program when I saw a story about a major arrest having been made by the Violent Crimes Task Force, a team comprised of FBI Agents, Michigan State Police Troopers, Detroit Police Officers, and some suburban Detroit officers. The number one gunman’s mug shot was displayed and I immediately recognized him as the one responsible for the armed robbery where we were victims.

All weekend I telephoned the investigator assigned to our case, with no reply. Monday morning, I was able to contact a member of the Task Force and told him our story. The bad guy had been arrested with four others responsible for murder, armed robberies, and carjacking. A fifth suspect, a juvenile, had fled to Alabama, and the FBI was after him. Their specialty was robbing patrons at fundraisers.

Weeks later, I was able to pick him out in a line-up at the Wayne County Jail. Although I never saw the case go to trial, as the number one suspect had already been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, I believe it was the intervention of an angel that saved my life that night. And also some Divine Intervention that led me to watch the local news channel and see the scumbag’s mug shot.

 

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Remembrance of Times Past

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

yorkshire-terrier-171701_1280Charlie Girl was Fitzwilly’s pack mate. Along with their three humans, they formed a pack. It was small, but it was good. Fitzwilly was also known (at least to himself) as Doggie Chi. Those who knew him as Fitzwilly didn’t necessarily recognize him as Doggie Chi. It wasn’t impossible to know him as both but he didn’t push his Doggie Chi identity. It wasn’t that he was trying to separate them. It was just that most people saw Fitzwilly as being very different from Doggie Chi. They saw them as two separate beings, even though they weren’t.

That was often the way of assumptions, he knew, especially hidden ones or ones that aren’t seen or looked for. Things became obvious (or hidden) in support of those assumptions. Trying wasn’t necessary. Things just happened, although practice might be needed at first. Nevertheless, Fitzwilly didn’t see himself as two separate beings. A busy day of playing fetch, eating grass, and sniffing butts seemed to be in perfect alignment with the transcendence and wisdom of Doggie Chi but people tended not to see it that way.

“People are weird,” he thought to himself, not for the first time.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and watched the youngster, Charlie Girl, sniff around the fence for the hundredth time today. Sometimes she would pounce on the ball and chase after it – that he could understand – but sniffing the fence around their enclosure was beyond him.

Maybe it was because he was so much older – he was almost five and she was only two. Maybe his advanced age accounted for his different attitude. After all, he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but he had never sniffed around a fence, either. Fitzwilly suspected that more than sniffing was going on. He suspected the differences between them. They were both in the same pack but they had differences that sometimes seemed to outweigh the similarities.

For one thing, Charlie Girl was much bigger than Fitzwilly was. He didn’t weigh more than ten pounds. She had to be about thirty-five pounds or more. He was a pure bred Yorky from a breeder. She was a mutt from the animal shelter, probably a Whippet-Pit Bull mix – what one of their humans sometimes called a “Bull Whippet.”

She was definitely pretty, with the sleek lines, long legs, and deep chest of the Whippet line and the bigger head, broader face, and soulful eyes of her Pit Bull heritage. She was fast, too. She’d only met one other dog who could even keep up with her and that had been a full blood Grey Hound.

Her favorite game seemed to be to goad other dogs into chasing her around the dog run and then to take off, easily out distancing them with her speed. She really loved running. She bounced along with a goofy smile on her face and wind of her own making blowing through her ears and short hair. Sometimes she ran when no one else was around, just for the joy of running.

In his mind, Fitzwilly thought of Charley Girl as “The Puppy Wonder.” It was a bit wordy, but it captured her true essence. She wasn’t a puppy anymore but her enthusiasm was very puppy-like. It was undiminished. When something got her excited, she had the uncanny ability to share her excitement so that others got excited just by watching her.

She wasn’t jaded, either. Many of the things that had excited her as a puppy excited her as an adult. Her love of running was an example. That she was part Whippet might be part of it, but she never seemed happier than when she was running free at the park or running circuits around the house.

She was beautiful at such times. She wasn’t ugly at other times by a long stretch, but watching her enjoy the simple act of running was freeing. Just by watching her people felt like they could run, too. They felt like they could fly.

She was like that. Not for the first time, he noticed that her infectious enthusiasm was winning. People and other dogs wanted to help her because of it. They behaved as if the more they helped her, the happier they would be themselves, as if their happiness and hers were linked somehow.

Fitzwilly snapped back to the present moment. Charlie Girl wasn’t sniffing around the fence anymore. Instead, she was creeping up on the ball as if it was some unsuspecting prey. She pounced on it, trapping it between her forepaws, butt in the air, tail wagging. That tail literally whipped through the air. It was a dangerous weapon and although Charlie Girl didn’t see it as such, Fitzwilly had learned to avoid that tail the hard way.

Fitzwilly lounged in the heat of the sun, his head between his paws, ears erect. He turned them forward and back, like a wolf’s ears, to follow different sounds. His ears and his eyes showed the only movement. He appeared to be dozing but he was actually alert. He thought again about the name he’d given Charlie Girl – “The Puppy Wonder.” It seemed to fit. She was definitely a puppy. At least she was compared to him. He looked at her again. She was contentedly chewing on the ball. He remembered her energy and liveliness. She took joy in the smallest things. Everything was a wonder for her. Of course it was, he reminded himself. She still had the exuberance of a puppy. A thought came to him – was that the source of her power? Was she powerful because of her exuberance?

He thought about it. It seemed natural and right somehow. It was also ironic because most folks got the idea that in order to “grow up” it is necessary to become serious and boring but not Charley Girl. She was just as joyful as she was when she was younger. Her joy was irrepressible and it made folks smile. Was she a joy because everything she experienced was a joy? Everything was a wonder? Did pure joy lead to power?

If so, that implied that power didn’t result in happiness, rather, happiness led to power. He realized that the age-old question of whether love or fear was better, was merely another way to ask the same question. The use of fear supposed that there was no connection. If there were truly no connection, it would make sense to try to get even a tiny bit more joy out of a situation even if it meant that another suffered mightily. If things were truly separate, it would only make sense to increase personal happiness at anyone else’s expense. No one else’s suffering would matter.

But life and reality indicate otherwise. They indicate that everyone is connected. In order to inspire others, it is necessary to recognize and honor connections. It as simple as that. That’s what sharing joy can do. In fact, joy wants to be shared. It’s paradoxically made bigger when it’s given away. The Puppy Wonder makes people happy and that inspires them to help her. Helping her makes them happier.

He mulled it over. He thought about true joy. He felt into the quiet unfolding of self and how it forms a conduit through which the unknown passes into the familiar. He felt into that process of passing into the familiar. He noticed how it acts and what it touches and changes and how it is changed itself. He remembered the power of joy. He had seen it change lives. It had affected his own life and he was richer for it.

When he first met Charley Girl he had been miserable and depressed most of the time. He had been brought all the way across the country to a strange house full of strange smells and a puppy with a tail. He laid about back then, almost never ate, and projected an air of general sadness. He managed to be miserable on the trip cross country and felt isolated in this strange, new house. But all the new things made it hard to be depressed and the puppy was irrepressible.

She was easily three times his size and could squash him if he wasn’t careful. He soon learned that she certainly wasn’t careful so he had to be. She sat anywhere. And that tail! The ghost of a smile flitted across his face and then it was gone.

The Puppy Wonder felt genuine joy in everything. She was happy upon seeing another, making a new friend, or the erratic flight of a butterfly. She didn’t judge anyone. She felt joy in them. And she shared that joy, too. It wasn’t just that she was happy. Her happiness was infectious. And as it spread, it naturally increased. That was how she inspired people to help her.

One day, he noticed that she always got more praise than he did, in spite of the fact that he was smaller and cuter. Passersby would begin by cooing over them both. Sometimes they would make louder noises over him initially. This was especially true of the women and girls for some reason. But Charley Girl got praise, too. As soon as he started barking to draw more attention to himself, he was forced to the ground or his mouth was held shut.

Maybe the humans didn’t want to hear it explained to them. Maybe they objected to all the barking. But for whatever reason they reacted badly when he chastised them for praising Charley Girl. Nevertheless he didn’t stop barking. He was compelled to redress this injustice somehow. He couldn’t let it go so he kept barking but his angry protests didn’t seem to matter. They kept praising Charley Girl.

One person they walked by most mornings wore a uniform and had dog treats in her pocket. Whenever she was there, they would stop on the corner and greet her. Charlie Girl would sit quietly, watch her with those big eyes, tail wagging, and get a treat, which she would crunch and gobble down immediately. He would stand his ground and bark and bark and bark until his human forced his head down and he would never get a treat.

It seemed to go on this way forever. Each day they would stop to say, “Hi.” Charley Girl would sit quietly with her tail wagging and get a treat. He would bark at her, calling attention to himself, and get nothing.

Then, one day, he decided to try something different. He was tired of watching Charley Girl get all the praise and the treat. He sat and quietly wagged his stubby tail just like Charley Girl. It worked! He got a treat, too!

That was interesting. It didn’t change his attitude with everyone. He still barked at them, especially when he felt insecure and wanted to assert himself. But this one person with the treats didn’t react well to the barking. Instead, she seemed to respond to a silent greeting.

He decided that this person with the treats was OK but that didn’t change how he treated others. He used his excellent memory to recall that she was special whenever he saw her and treated her differently. He remembered that she was OK, a friend. The others continued to be treated as if they were threatening strangers instead of friends.

Granted, he wasn’t always castigating them for their own good. It was a big city, full of strange people, and he was a little dog. The humans towered over him. He could be forgiven for barking at them occasionally, he thought. He was just telling them to back off and respect his space. Did it matter that he was barking out of fear? Did it matter that he barked much more often than “occasionally”?

A bird flew into their yard and landed for a moment on a branch. He was bright and chipper and very formal looking. His little bird head wagged from side to side in rapid movements as he surveyed the yard. Then he flew off again. Fitzwilly didn’t bother moving from his spot. Charlie Girl never even noticed.

One time, they were walking with one of their humans along some trails in the park. No one was around, so the human took them off of their leashes. They came across a dead bird on one of the little wooden bridges that the trail went over. Charlie Girl sniffed at it and ran off. Fitzwilly took more time with the bird.

It was squashed flat and mostly dry but surely there would be some muddy moisture in it to make smells, he thought. Being a rat dog by lineage wasn’t easy. It gave him a natural tendency to fight nasty rats. That tendency didn’t go away just because there were no rats to fight. Anyone or anything strange would do. That’s why he would often bark at people – at least, that was his excuse.

That was also why he grew his hair long. Without it, he looked like a tiny Chihuahua. With it he looked bigger and fiercer. It provided good protection from imagined teeth and claws.

That aura of fierceness was also created by the way he smelled. Completely separate from the fact that rats, his ancestral enemy, often smelled pretty bad, so the way he smelled could provide camouflage, he liked smelling bad. When he smelled like soap and flowers, he didn’t smell like himself, at least not the self he wanted to be. He didn’t smell fierce. When he did smell bad, he fancied that he smelled fierce.

So he had literally jumped in excitement when he came across the dead bird. He ran up to it and rubbed his face in it, thoroughly mashing the smell into his fur. His human predictably ran up, hands waving in the air, and yelled to get him to move away from the carcass. He ran off before the human could touch him, but not before he had rubbed in a good smell.

He trotted off happily while his human grumbled something about having to wash him.

After a while, he noticed that Charley Girl was following a pattern. She would stop – sometimes it was at a tree or some other plant, sometimes at a big rock or a pile of dirt – and sniff it curiously. She would keep sniffing until their human caught up with her or something else had captured her attention. Then she would normally run off, tail wagging.

What did Charlie Girl enjoy so much, Fitzwilly wondered. He went up to a plant that she had smelled and tried it. He watched her to see what she was doing. She was at another plant, smelling it before taking off again. He sniffed at his plant. He marveled at what he smelled. It was like the whole world opened up to him. He smelled earth and leaves and the rain from a day ago or so. He could smell how long ago it had rained. He smelled the moisture. He smelled something else, too. He smelled the plant. He could smell if it piqued his curiosity or not. He could smell if he wanted to eat it or not.

He had had no idea! He marveled at how powerful and sensitive his nose was. He smelled some more. He moved his nose around the plant to get different angles. There was something else. What was it? He sniffed at it, trying to figure out what he smelled.

Then he suddenly got it. Urine! He smelled urine! Other dogs had passed this way and they had left their urine behind. They had left their whole life stories behind in their urine! He could sniff their urine and tell. He could smell what they’d eaten and how old they were and how healthy they were. He could smell if they were tired or not or if their feet hurt. He could smell if they were big or small. He could smell their attitudes – if they felt friendly or afraid or isolated. He could tell so much by the smell.

The wooded path suddenly took on a different dimension. It was as if it was suddenly deeper. It seemed to glow and sparkle with various colors, many of which he’d never seen or even imagined existed before. The path opened up before him in a wholly different way. He had so many options available to him. All he had to do was choose something and sniff.

Part of him cried for those who could never smell things this way. Part of him lamented that he’d spent so long not smelling things, that he’d spent his whole life up until then in a flat, grey, two-dimensional world, devoid of smell. But mostly he was overwhelmed by the sense of possibility. He vibrated with it.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and remembered with fondness his first discovery and early forays into the wider doggie world. He didn’t move from his cushion. The sun shining down was too warm and delicious. He remembered the simple power of taking joy in life and what it had brought him in his life and he smiled.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Remembrance of Times Past” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Feeding Time

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

doggy-635408_1280Fitzwilly and Charley Girl came back inside with their person. It was morning time and they had just gone outside to relieve themselves. It was still dark out but the cold air hadn’t penetrated their cloaks of warmth, yet. They were still toasty in their cores. That was a benefit of being speedy. Now it was time for food!

As soon as their leashes were unsnapped, they happily scampered to the crate in the kitchen. Charley Girl was the bigger of the two and she was part Whippet, so she generally got there first. Sometimes on a turn she ran so fast that her body went one way while her paws went another and she hit the ground but that never slowed her down much. In fact, Fitzwilly wasn’t even sure she felt the hits. She always seemed to scramble to her feet right away and run off. For his part, Fitzwilly was a Yorkshire Terrier but he was plucky. He didn’t give up, not that he would over such a short distance.

Once they got there, they climbed inside, turned around, and laid down on the blankets, waiting for their person to feed them. He was maddeningly slow. Sometimes he was slower than at others though Fitzwilly wasn’t sure why. It was clear that he moved at human speed, not dog speed. He slowly walked from the door to their crate, retrieved their bowls, and filled them with food. He didn’t know why the human took so long but he wished he would hurry up.

When the food was finally sitting in front of them, they had to wait again for the command to eat! It was torture to wait. He could smell the food. Fitzwilly occasionally looked up to see what the human was doing but mostly he watched the food. He could imagine how good it would taste and how it would feel in his stomach. He only glanced up to let the person know that he was waiting. It didn’t occur to Fitzwilly that the person was waiting for him to look up.

Once he began eating, he lost himself in his frenzy. He was consumed in a symphony of teeth and tongue and swallowing. He didn’t even waste time chewing, like Charley Girl did. He simply swallowed the food whole. He felt that it was important to eat everything he could as quickly as he could so that no other dog could. Never mind that he and Charley Girl had separate bowls and separate food and there was no other dog around. Nor did he know that there were dogs who had food in their bowls all the time and ate only intermittently. All that he saw was the food right in front of him.

After he gobbled his food and licked his bowl to get any crumbs, he made it a habit to inspect Charley Girl’s bowl, too. Usually there was nothing there but occasionally she would miss something or wouldn’t eat. Then he would feast, assuming the human didn’t remove the bowl before he was done.

He forgot himself completely when he ate. He wasn’t aware of anything but his food. He didn’t remember himself at all until after he was done. Only then did he become aware enough of himself again to have any hope of becoming Doggie Chi. He didn’t bite or growl or anything like that but he wasn’t conscious of himself, either.

Lying down afterwards, digesting his meal, he speculated on the difference between his own behavior and that of Charley Girl. Her behavior was not inconsistent with the exuberance of The Puppy Wonder but his behavior was most definitely different from the enlightened awareness of Doggie Chi.

Feeling full and satisfied, he laid his head down between his fore paws and his eyelids drooped. While his body dissolved into the familiar rhythms of sleep, he pondered the difference between the way he was when he ate and the practice of being aware that led to Doggie Chi. There were definitely two different practices. One focused on being aware. The other emphasized a particular goal and suppressed everything else.

The gathering sense of relaxation continued to mount. His thoughts slowed down as he did. Why did he descend into his animal nature at such times? Why did he forget himself? Was it just a habit? Wasn’t it natural for higher forms like dogs to evolve toward something finer, more divine?

He imagined his ideal dog, with soft fur, slim, strong tail, and keen nose, towering over other dogs. He imagined himself as that ideal dog and smiled to himself as sleep overcame him.

Some time later, he resurfaced into his final burst of wakefulness. He groggily continued his train of thought. He reminded himself that base animal behavior was completely concerned with getting food, shelter, and warmth – the things of survival. But surely he had progressed beyond that stage…

…hadn’t he?

As the last remnants of conscious awareness disappeared, he was left with this final question. No one, however, could say if he knew its context any longer.

Then he was sound asleep.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

Creative Commons License
”Feeding Time” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Spirits Of The North

by Ingrid Dean

ghost-35852_1280

I’ve never been what you might call “poltergeist inclined.” I enjoy a good horror movie as much as the next person, but I always dismissed alleged true tales of wandering spirits as figments of overactive imaginations. I always believed each strange occurrence had at least one logical explanation.

This was, of course, before I began working the late-night shift in City Hall at Skagway, Alaska.

Skagway’s City Hall and police department are housed in the McCabe College Building. The local court, Magistrate’s office, and Trail of 98 Museum also share the space. This grand old structure was built in 1900 as a woman’s college and was, for a time, the only granite building in Alaska.

As with any old building, it had the obligatory creeks, groans, and murmurs. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me it was haunted. I say this now with some certainty, even though it may damage any reputation I have left as being a practical man.

After a break-in period, my first duty assignment was working the midnight shift. Sitting in the office during the wee hours, I would occasionally hear a few strange noises, but never gave them much thought. One early morning, however, changed my perception of what goes bump in the night—forever.

I was working on some much-neglected paperwork at my desk. The building was silent except for the faint hum of the Macintosh computer and my fingers performing a slow dance on the keyboard. Fighting off sleepiness caused by a daytime person trying to be nocturnal, I struggled with a rather boring theft report.

I had nearly completed the narrative when I heard a door close. The door was in a rear hallway off of the court chambers. I recognized this door because of the many times I’d heard it close before. It was attached to a police storage room where uniforms and other equipment were kept. The solid oak door was at least two inches thick. An ancient brass knob and lock-set hinted at its age. The door would not stay open on its own and, if not held, would quickly slam shut behind you. As the door was swinging it made the most hideous screeching sound.

After hearing the door close, my first thought was that someone was in or had been in the storage room. This idea was quickly dismissed because the entire building was dark when I arrived. My second thought was that someone left the door propped open and whatever was holding it gave way.

I wasn’t the least bit nervous as I rose from the desk and confidently walked through the dark courtroom and into the even darker hallway. After some fumbling around I turned on the hall light and approached the storage room door. I pulled on the knob and found it properly latched. Upon opening the door, the equipment room was dark, as it should be. I turned on the light and all of the contents seemed to be in order. I turned off the light and let the door shut on its own and was treated to the loud screeching and confident slam. Before walking away, I pulled on the knob one more time. It was locked. Satisfied, I returned to my desk and began making finishing touches to the report.

A few minutes later, I again heard the loud screech and the finality of the door slamming shut. This made the hair on the back of my neck rise to attention. Spooks were not on my mind at this point. I knew SOMEONE must have opened the door.

I pulled my weapon and made my way back to the dark courtroom using my best there-might-be-a-bad-guy-on-the-premises stalking maneuvers. I listened for signs of an intruder. As I crouched outside the door, all was silent in the hallway. My left hand reached for the light switch and the bulb snapped into action. I pounced forward, gun pointing down the hall, prepared for whoever was breaking in or out.

The hallway was empty. It then occurred to me that whoever opened the door must be hiding in the storage room. Using the before-mentioned police maneuvers, I opened the storage room door. No one.

I carefully looked around the assorted boxes and racks, satisfied that I was, in fact, alone. Somewhat relieved, I stepped back into the hallway and secured my weapon. I opened and closed the door several times, performing the “this can’t be happening” test. Each time the door securely latched and held.

I even tried leaving the door shut and unlatched, and discovered that it would stay resting against the casing. Then, shutting the door with a forceful push, I pulled the knob as hard as I dared, making sure it was properly latched. I returned to my desk feeling confident all was in order. As I settled into my chair, the door screeched. This time, I was scared. My previous search had confirmed that no living being was stalking City Hall, which left only one possible explanation. Since the door could not have opened by itself, some thing had caused this to happen.

Ever so slowly, I walked toward the hallway, with my gun secured. Whatever was opening the door would not be stopped by bullets. The door was, of course, closed and securely latched. I stood in the hallway for awhile, carefully listening and watching for signs of movement. Nothing happened.

Completing the report was the last thing on my mind, but I decided to finish the task. All was quiet as I returned to my desk. I sat stiffly in the chair, determined to not be chased from the building.

Minutes ticked by as I waited for the next occurrence. All right, I thought, if some sort of supernatural phenomenon is going on here, it will have to deal with me. I will not be run off by some annoying spirit held over from the Klondike era. Not Alan White, no sir!

You might say my sitting and listening while encamped behind the desk was admirable; after awhile, though, it became boring. I was about to write the whole episode off to midnight shifts, when the door screeched shut. Once again, I got the familiar feeling of hair leaping to attention on my neck; however not as bad this time.

Is that the best you can do? I smugly thought. What’s to closing a door? Any old spirit can handle that, you two-bit piece of suspended animation! As I considered additional insults, a two-bit something began to walk across the creaky wooden floor of the museum above me. I was familiar with the sound. I thought this new noise might be a result of my over-active imagination, but the footsteps were, well, hauntingly real.

When my heartbeat slowed to a reasonable level, I studied the new sound. Definite footsteps could be heard crossing the floor from east to west. They would stop for a time, and then return to where they had begun. Having no intention of going up to the museum, I chose to remain at my desk, in a cold sweat.

The door screeched again. I threw up my hands in disgust. Great, this is all I need! Everyone thought I was nuts for coming to Alaska in the first place, and now I find myself in a haunted department. I sat in my chair for another half hour, listening to the supernatural activities. Then anger set in. I didn’t need this. What had I done to deserve this phenomenon? I was now totally disgusted.

The door shut again. I jumped from my chair, just as whatever was walking around upstairs bumped into something. I began my first attempt at ghost-busting. “Now, knock it off!” I yelled as loudly as I could. The sound of my voice startled me and, apparently, the spirits moving about. There was absolute silence. Ha! They’re intimidated by me! I thought.

Then continuing my tirade, I strutted around the room. “I did not travel over three thousand miles to be haunted! Why don’t you guys, or girls, or whatever, find some other building to run amuck in? Hey you, upstairs! You bump into something? Good! I hope you stubbed your, ah … thing! Now, go back to wherever you go during the day and leave me alone! You’re really starting to tick me off!”

Returning to my chair, I enjoyed the new peace and quiet. My fit seemed to have worked.

Later in my shift, I went back out on patrol, feeling rather good about myself. Told them a thing or two, I smugly thought as I drove down Broadway and checked out a few buildings.

Larry relieved me at the shift change, but I said nothing about ghostly wanderings. A bright sunny day had dawned and now it all seemed like a dream. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share an experience like this. I had no idea how common it was for someone who carried a weapon for a living to experience strange night moves.

Luckily, the City Hall spirits left me alone—most of the time. Every few weeks though, the midnight shift would get weird. After listening for awhile, I would yell, “Knock it off!” And all would be quiet for the rest of the night. I became so used to this procedure that I started to be rather matter-of-fact about it.

On one of the few days Larry and I had off together, we were sitting in his living room. “Hey Larry,” I asked, “you ever hear anything, you know, strange, working in the office late at night?”

The look on his face was telling. “What do you mean when you say strange?” Larry asked, choosing his words carefully.

“Ah, you know, doors closing, footsteps overhead in the museum, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, thank you,” Larry sighed. “I thought I was going insane or something.”

Larry and I discussed the situation for some time. “Just yell ‘Knock it off!’” I said, feeling like an old pro. “They hate that.”

Excerpt from the book Alaska Behind Blue Eyes by Alan L. White.

More like this and some of Ingrid’s other work can be found at www.spiritofthebadge.com.

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Dad’s Watch

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

Montauk Point Lighthouse taken in the early morning hours of 12/10/2005

by Wolfgang Wander (GFDL 1.2)

My dad died ten years ago. I still have his watch. It’s a heavy thing, gleaming and golden, with a raised square on the crystal over the date. It sits, quiet and weighty. A silent communion with ghosts.

I’m sure it still works, though I’ve never tried it. Never wanted to. I remember seeing him adjust it on his wrist years before he was injured by the strokes, before his long slide into shadow.

As he told it, on the morning of his first stroke, he woke up feeling odd. He wanted to go to the doctor but my mother objected. She told him to take some aspirin or a nap. When the next morning came and he was no better, they did go to the doctor but by that time, the damage was done.

Years later, long after they had both passed away, I told that story to my brother. To my surprise, he had heard the same story, but in his version our mother wanted to go to the doctor and our father had objected. I assume that he had gotten his story from our mother. Two versions of the same story but with the roles reversed. Since they were both long gone, there was no way to tell which one had been telling the truth. Maybe it didn’t matter.

In the final analysis, we judge by the feeling we have. Whether feeling leads to belief or belief leads to feeling is immaterial if it ends there. However, it rarely, if ever, does. Beliefs can be adopted from the people around us regardless of how we feel. Which path we follow has effects that continue to ripple out from the initial decision, like a stone thrown into a calm lake.

After his first stroke, dad began to give his life up a little bit at a time. He shuffled about with a cane at first. He laughed as I teased him to keep him working and walking. My mother and I would take him out for lunch or to be among people or just to get some air and sunshine, even though it took thirty minutes or more to get him dressed and out the door. I didn’t notice at first how trying the whole process was for him but it grew minutely more arduous over time. Eventually, he gave it up altogether.

He stopped wearing his watch after that first stroke. It was heavy and he didn’t have a reason to know the time. He always intended to put it back on after he got better but he never did. Instead, his hand withered into a claw. His whole left side became a remnant. A golden watch dial had little meaning, no matter how much it gleamed. Time was marked instead by his creeping descent into disability.

I am left to remember two fathers. I know they are both the same man, but they seem like different people. One is resigned to dying. The other is busy living. One is letting go of life by degrees and the other is remarkably robust. They hardly seem like the same man. Yet at the end of his slow fade, he held onto the final shreds of life with the same fierce tenacity that marked the living man.

I remember one time, when I was a young teenager, I asked him directly why he stayed with my mother. They seemed like a mismatched pair. He was calm and nurturing, if a bit exacting and proper. She seemed harsh and demanding. She literally yelled at him for days whenever they argued or something didn’t go as she’d expected it to. When she yelled, he would sit silently, close his eyes, and listen to it all, even if it went on for days.

He responded to my question without hesitation, as if he’d been thinking about it every day with no one to talk with. He said that she had an ability to do amazing things. Her energy and joy were incredible. He loved that about her. In fact, he had fallen in love with her because of it. This was a side of her that I had rarely seen. His voice shook with the intensity of his feeling.

But he also said that she was afraid. She couldn’t always reveal that energy and joy because of her fear and she most feared those closest to her. He hoped that one day she would feel comfortable and safe enough with him to share her energy and joy again, so they could both revel in it and dance together again. He cried. We held each other for a long time afterward.

Listening to him, I flashed on a memory from years before. I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. Both of my parents were doctors and we were living on the grounds of a sprawling hospital complex in a separate building for the doctors’ families. My parents had to drive a couple of miles to get to work.

One day, it snowed so hard that the hospital shut down early. My parents were stranded at work. They had to walk home. I remember eagerly watching for them through the window and how happy I was to see them tramping through the snow. They were walking with a neighbor of ours, apparently enjoying themselves. They were talking and laughing. My mother seemed animated.

For me, that helped to explain a lot. It explained the infinite patience he showed her and the countless moments he spent with her, listening to her rant. I don’t know what passed between them in their private moments, but in the end, he literally gave her power over his life. He gave her what she asked for.

When his time came, the doctor called from the hospital saying that we should get there immediately. I don’t think he realized that we were a continent away. I notified my brother and we got the next flight to New York. I hadn’t even known that dad was in the hospital. It happened that quickly. We had left him in a nursing home to get better so we could move him to the west coast to be with us. When we left, he was getting stronger, or so we thought.

We had barely gotten back from our initial trip when we got the call to return. We flew over night to get there and drove straight to the hospital from the airport. He looked shrunken and alone in the sterile room. Everything seemed unnaturally white and bright. He was silent except for his breathing. On top of the bedclothes, his hand was warm but stiff.

He had acute kidney failure. The nurse in the home had said that he’d stopped eating and drinking. “Come on, Dr. Lee,” she had said. “You’re a doctor. You know what’ll happen if you don’t drink.”

He’d looked at her and nodded.

He’d stopped trying to live. He had chosen to die. He had shared the last fifty years of his life with our mother. After she was gone, he had nothing to do, or so he thought. So he went about dying.

He had a clause in his living will against intravenous feeding, so none was provided. By the time we arrived at the hospital he was unconscious. We set up a vigil. We took turns alternating between sitting with him and trying to catch some sleep in the second bed. He was alone in a semi-private room so there was no one to distract us.

When my turn came, I was exhausted and laid down but sleep was impossible in that room, even after the flight. I don’t think either of us found the room very hospitable. After the first night we gave up trying to sleep.

I had one sided conversations or silently remembered with him for hours. Sometimes I sang to him. I remembered the way he used to sing Korean love songs when we were out driving. I was no more than ten or eleven years old. I had no idea what the words meant but they sounded sad. It made him feel happy to be able to share them. Afterwards, I always felt closer to him, like we shared something that only we knew.

Sometimes we would talk or argue on those drives but most of the time he sang or we listened to financial news radio or sat in silence. At such times, he would often raise his hand and slap me on the knee, once, twice, three times. It stung. He always had a big smile on his face. It was his way of saying, “Thank you for being here with me.”

I remembered those songs and knee slaps as I sat with him in the hospital. I said, “Thanks, dad. I know you’re tired. Thanks for everything. You can go now. It’s alright.”

He visibly relaxed. The talking and singing helped. He was comforted by our presence. But he didn’t die. After thirty-six hours at his bedside we were exhausted. We decided to go to their house to get a few hours of rest. The nurses promised to call us immediately if anything happened.

The drive to their house was no more than thirty minutes long. As we were pulling into the driveway, we got the call. He had passed. My brother hung up the phone.

“I guess he wanted to be alone,” I said.

“Yeah. It happens that way sometimes.”

“It’s funny. We come all this way and go through all this so he wouldn’t be alone and in the end, he waits for us to leave.”

“Some people want privacy.”

“Hm. I don’t feel sleepy now. I think I’m going to go the watch the sun rise over the water. Do you want to come?”

“No. I’m exhausted. I just want to sleep.”

“OK.” I restarted the engine and he got out. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

I drove with the windows down and the heat up as the winter wind rushed past. Without thinking about it too much, I found myself at the easternmost parking lot of the little island that protected the big island from the ocean. The small island was little more than a large sand bar but it held a gorgeous beach. Surprisingly, the parking lot wasn’t deserted, though the inhabitants of the few cars were not in evidence.

A lighthouse was set back from the water. A sandy path snaked through the tall grass, connecting the lighthouse with the beach. Small patches of snow were scattered about on the leeward sides of dunes. A few intrepid gulls wheeled about in the rising sun, searching for scraps.

The ocean was choppy. I had never come to the beach with my dad in winter before, but he loved the water. He’d been a champion swimmer in high school. I remembered watching him swim at the beach. He’d go out in a straight line for about a mile. Then he’d turn and swim as far parallel to shore before turning again to swim back into shore. He’d walk the distance back to us from where he’d landed. A huge square. He used to make the lifeguards nervous.

I laughed at that, remembering the man. He didn’t solve problems, he dissected them. We would often spar with each other late into the night. It didn’t really matter what the debate was about. We debated on any topic that came up. We even argued about debate.

It was such an odd way to have quality father-son time. I challenged him on it. He explained his belief in Hegelian dialectics. He said that each side had a sacred duty to argue as forcefully as possible. If he was so forceful that he happened to steamroll over an opponent, that wasn’t his problem. It was his duty. It was his opponent’s duty to be even more forceful if he could be.

Arguing as forcefully as he could was his way of honoring his opponent. Arguing with him was like standing up in gale force winds. He debated with religious intensity. And he was always debating. He loved debate. But that meant that he also loved his opponent. To him, it was obvious that debate and love were bound up together. He loved fiercely. He debated fiercely, too.

He loved ballroom dance. He would escort my mom to the dance floor and together they would amaze everyone. They moved with a lightness and flow that carried them around the floor effortlessly. It wasn’t just that they moved so well, it was that they enjoyed it so much. I never saw her look happier than when they danced. I never saw him look more elegant and poised. It was as if they became magical incarnations of dance itself. But, of course, that all ended.

As his horizons shrank to the size of his bed, we expected each Christmas would be his last. Yet every year, he would go on to see another. He survived over eleven years that way. In the end, he survived my mom, which surprised us all at the time but perhaps it shouldn’t have. She took care of him but in a way, he was also supporting her. They both took ill one January with pneumonia. He survived and even put on weight. She did not. She never woke up. He accepted the news of her death in silence. He died less than two weeks after she did.

The wind had penetrated my coat and left me thoroughly chilled. I left the crashing waves behind and hurried back to the car. I looked at the sand and the hardy, salt-loving plants growing beside the wooden planks that defined the path. Looking up, I saw that the sun had risen a fair distance into the sky. It wasn’t red any longer. The stony lighthouse overlooking the parking lot stood, resolute and apparently unchanged.

I suddenly realized that being the older brother, I was now the “patriarch” of the family. It was a strange and unnatural feeling. It felt like a set of too-baggy clothes.
As I played with this, I climbed back into the car, turned the heat on high, and headed back to the house, the windows closed this time. I wanted to get some sleep before I turned to the tasks ahead.

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Dad’s Watch” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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