Chapter 20

	Having a day start with a confrontation with "Aaron", 
usually meant that Howard was in for, as Grandma Green used 
to say, "a day that even the devil wouldn't touch".  And it 
had been just that.

	First Aaron.  Then missing half a day's work to drive 
over to meet with the director of the Colver State Hospital.  
And finally, when he got back to the factory a little after 
lunch, finding out that the air conditioning still wasn't 
repaired.  After enduring upwards of eighty-five degree, 
airless heat for nearly three hours, Howard couldn't stand 
any more, and clocked out. "Two hours and forty-seven 
minutes," he'd muttered bitterly when he looked at his time 
card after punching out. "Nearly a whole day's pay shot to 
hell."  By the time he pulled into his driveway twelve minutes 
after he left the factory, Howard was ready to lock the front 
door and forget the world outside existed. But the terrified 
screams that he heard coming from the direction of Perry's 
bedroom squashed that hope.

	Slamming the truck into park, the big man bailed out at 
a dead run and tore into the house, up the stairs and down the 
hall.  He didn't hesitate at the door behind which the screams 
were coming from.  Throwing the door open he was slammed with 
a full-throated scream of terror, and ran across the room to 
its source.

	In spite of the screams assaulting his ears, for a moment 
Howard just stood, staring.  Staring down at his nearly grown 
son crammed into a corner of the closet, his eyes squeezed shut 
and kicking and flailing his arms as if possessed...and felt his 
another piece of his heart break away. But that weary, familiar 
ache was slapped aside as the anger that had simmered all day came 
to a head.


	The mind link connected and Al watched Perry Kirkwood's 
small bedroom come into focus.  His heart leapt into his throat 
when he heard hysterical screaming behind him.  Spinning around 
he saw Howard Kirkwood just standing, staring into the open 
closet.  Running to the open door, he looked inside and felt his 
stomach tighten.

	*Jesus, Mary and Joseph!* Al thought. *What's happening to 
him?*  Then he glanced at the motionless man beside him and felt 
his blood begin to boil.

	"Do something!" he shouted angrily in Howard Kirkwood's 
face, even though he knew it was a useless action. "How can you 
just stand there, you heartless bastard!  Help him!"  But Howard 
never moved, never blinked.  Spitting curses in Italian as fast 
as they crossed his mind, the Observer shot a malevolent look at 
Perry's father, then moved in front of him, facing the closet.

	For a couple of seconds Al watched his best friend crammed 
into a corner of the closet, his face wet with what he was sure 
was a cold sweat, his eyes squeezed shut.  Watched him kicking 
and screaming hysterically as he batted and slapped at the edges 
of the clothes and plastic dry cleaning bags when they brushed 
against him.

	"GET 'EM OFF!" Sam screamed. "GET 'EM OFF!"  He continued 
slapping frantically at his head, running his hands wildly through 
his hair.

	"Sam!" Al shouted to make himself heard.  "SAM!"

	Through the terror rampaging in his mind, Sam heard a sound... 
a familiar sound...and grabbed at it.  "Al!" he screamed. "Get 'em 
off me!" 

	"There's nothing on you," Al had to almost shout to be heard.

	"I can feel 'em..." Sam babbled.

	Al knew he had to get Sam to open his eyes.  "There's nothing 
on you, Sam," he said as loudly and calmly as possible. "Open your 
eyes, and see for yourself."  It grabbed at his heart to see his 
friend slapping and swiping at his own face.

	"I can't.  They'll get in my eyes!"

	Al said firmly, "You trust me, don't you, Sam?"

	"Yes, but...."

	"Then believe me," Al enunciated each word clearly and calmly.


	"But I feel..."

	Squatting down so he was at eye level with Sam, Al continued to 
speak in firm, calm tones. "What you're feeling are plastic bags and 
clothes brushing against you."  He paused.  Then, with the same 
gentle firmness he had addressed to Perry, said, "Trust me, Sam. 
Open your eyes."

	In spite of what his mind was telling him he would see, Sam 
tightened his hold on the familiar sound of Al's voice, trusted 
it...and opened his eyes.  For several seconds more he remained 
backed into the corner, his eyes fixed on the hologram, and gulping 
in huge breaths. Finally he whispered, "Are they..gone?"

	"Look for yourself," Al maintained a tone of unhurried 
authority, his eyes never leaving Sam.

	"I'm...afraid," Sam whispered.

	"Face your fear or you'll never get past it," Al said firmly. 
"Look at yourself."

	A sense of relief replaced the anxiety as he watched Sam's 
eyes glance first at his arms, then down at his body.  Standing 
up, the Observer watched the Nobel-prize winning physicist jump 
nervously when a corner of a plastic bag brushed against his 
forehead, bat it away, and then crawl through his holographic 
image and out of the closet. Sam was still on his hands and knees 
when he bumped into Howard, nearly knocking him down.

	"I heard you screaming from the driveway," Howard said, his 
voice a heavy mix of anger faintly stained with concern as he bent 
down and grabbed his son and hauling him to his feet. "And what the 
hell do you mean coming here at three in the afternoon?  The last 
class doesn't get out till three forty-five." He tightened his grip 
and shook his son once, hard.  "Damn it, Aaron, answer me!"

	All Al could do was stare, his anger momentarily blind-sided 
by the statement.  But he noticed it had a different effect on Sam.

	"I'm not Aaron," Sam said a bit sharply as he yanked free of 
Howard's hard grip on his upper arms.  Though still a bit shaky from 
his ordeal, he faced Perry's father, lifting his chin, hazel-green 
eyes meeting gray.

	Howard took an involuntary step back when his son pulled free 
of his grip. He hesitated before saying, "Perry?"

	"Yes, dad," Sam said carefully. "It's me."  He lifted his chin. 
"Why did you call me Aaron, dad?"

	Howard was unsettled by his son's sudden change in attitude. 
Something in his eyes was different, certainly in the way he stood, 
and in the way he moved as he stepped past him to close the closet 
door.  He jumped a little when the question was repeated as 'Perry' 
turned to face him again, his intent expression unwavering. Not 
defiantly. More like a young man who has suddenly discovered his own 
inherent male strength.

	"Why did you call me Aaron, dad?" Sam repeated the question, 
keeping his eyes level with Howard's.

	"I...I was thinking about him," Howard said. "He came by 

	"When?" Sam challenged.

	Though caught off guard for a few moments, Howard felt his 
anger begin to rise again.  "This morning," he snapped. "While I 
was waiting for you in the truck."

	Sam started to verbally jump all over his host's father, but 
the sight of Al, standing behind the man and shaking his head and 
pointing at the handlink made him bite his tongue.

	"Don't do it, Sam," Al warned. "Ziggy says if you let your 
anger get the better of you right now, there's an eighty-two percent 
probability that Aaron's gonna get loose again."

	"And?" Sam demanded, not caring about the confused look on
Howard's face at the odd question.

	"And he'll take over your body and kill Howard in the next 
ten minutes. And...," Al swallowed then finished. "'ll be 
killed seven minutes later."

	Sam forgot about Howard. "What?"

	He nodded, quickly filling in the rest of the new history.  
"When you stood up to Howard a minute ago, you changed history," 
he said, punching in codes almost as fast as Ziggy was providing 

	"In this new history," Al said, "one of the neighbors heard 
yelling and screaming in the house on the afternoon of August 14, called the police.  By the time the cops got here 
five minutes later, they found Perry in his bedroom still beating 
his father's lifeless body with..." Al glanced around, then pointed, 
"...that baseball bat."

	He paused. "According to the officers' report, when they 
ordered Perry to drop the bat, he screamed something and came at 
them."  He met Sam's shocked gaze. "It took six shots to stop him." 
He hesitated.  "According to the autopsy, they dug six bullets out 
of his body, but it was the first the middle of his 
forehead..that killed Perry Kirkwood."

	Howard hadn't shifted his gaze from his son for a second as 
he listened to the odd, one-sided conversation.  It wasn't the first 
one he ever witnessed or heard his son carry on.  But the way the 
boy's expressions were changing ...absolutely focused attention... 
surprise...shock...disbelief...and finally, a quiet acceptance...
troubled him even more.  So much so that his own anger was 
momentarily forgotten.

	"Son?" Howard said, putting a hand on one of Perry's 
shoulders.  He didn't flinch when the boy jerked nervously. "What 
is it?" he asked, moving his hand up to run it slowly over his 
son's head. "Are you all right? Did you hit your head on something 
when you...fell in the closet?"

	Sam couldn't remember ever feeling as mentally and physically 
exhausted as he did at the moment.  He shivered as the slight puff 
of air caused when Howard raised his arm to run his fingers over his 
head, touched his sweat dampened shirt. The last question gave him 
something of an out, and he nodded.

	"I guess so," he said carefully. "Must've...blacked out." Sam 
flitted a glance at the Observer who was keeping a sharper watch on 
the handlink than the cigar now almost burned down to his fingers. 
But he knew instantly that his next words were wrong when Al 
stiffened.  "Guess when I hit my head it triggered a..sort of 
nightmare."  Howard reacted almost identically.

	"A nightmare?"

	"Careful, Sam," Al warned.

	"Maybe...nightmare was the wrong word," Sam corrected himself 
hurriedly. "All I remember is..."  In a single glance he saw that 
man and hologram's attention was riveted on him. "...feeling 
like..." he gulped then named his fear. " spiders were 
crawling on me."

	Howard felt the tightness across his shoulders ease and he 
managed a bit of a smile. "And to think, when you were little, 
I was always finding bugs in your pockets."

	"Guess I forgot about that," Sam conceded with a forced 

	After another moment of awkward silence, Howard left the room. 
"I'm gonna get a shower," he said pausing at the door to look back.  
"Change your shirt and start supper."  He barely waited long enough 
to see his 'son' nod.

	Stripping off the damp shirt, Sam grabbed a tee shirt from 
a drawer and pulled it on as he headed for the kitchen.  He wasn't 
surprised to find the Observer there ahead of him.

	For a couple of minutes Al didn't say anything. Pulling a 
fresh cigar from an inside pocket of his jacket, he lit it, 
watching his friend through the fragrant haze of smoke that rose 
as the tip of the Chivello yielded to the lighter's flame. Snapping 
the lighter shut, he took a long pull from the cigar, exhaled 
smoothly, then said two words.  "What happened?"

	Sam hesitated as he reached to open the refrigerator. 
"You mean..."


	He turned to face Al. "A memory happened," Sam said, pushing 
his hands into his back pockets so Al wouldn't see the nervous 
tremor in them.  "A very old, terrifying childhood memory."  He 
saw the unspoken question in the Observer's eyes and answered it. 
"Aaron...found it and was..."

	Al spared his friend having to go into the details. "I get 
the picture."  But he needed to know more.  "What was the memory?"  
The light film of sweat that sprang up on the time traveler's brow 
was instantly noted, and he went to stand in front of his friend.

	"Believe me, Sam," he said, looking up into his friend's eyes. 
"I know what flashbacks and night terrors are like. It took a lot 
of years after 'Nam for me to work through mine.  It was damned 
near as bad as living through the real thing." He paused, searching 
the hazel-green eyes pinned intently on him. "Trust me. Talking 
about it can help."

	Sam swallowed, then swallowed again. "I..I never told 
anyone," he whispered. "Not mom or dad or even Tom."  He took a 
deep breath and exhaled, then met Al's dark gaze. Slowly, almost 
ashamedly, word by word, he exposed the long hidden memory and 
his fear to the light of day.

	Al didn't interrupt, just listened and understood. He saw 
how a deliberately cruel childish prank had forged and refined 
his friend's innate ability to understand and feel for the 
underdog.  When Sam finally finished, they stood in silence.

	Needing something to occupy his mind and hands, Sam opened 
the refrigerator and took out a package of ground meat, a head 
of lettuce, a tomato and some cucumbers. Bumping the door shut 
with his elbow, he set the items on the table.  Finding a bowl 
he mixed the meat with salt and pepper, then shaped several 
hamburger patties. Putting them in a skillet over a low heat, 
he began making two small salads.

	Finally, Sam said the first thing that came to mind to 
break the silence still hanging in the air. "You know, I haven't 
had much time to think about it since I leaped in yesterday, but 
has Ziggy come up with any idea as to what I'm here to do? Besides 
trying to hold onto my sanity?"

	Al took the cigar out of his mouth and fixed Sam with a 
certain look. But before he spoke, he entered a long string of 
codes on the handlink and waited. Finally, he spoke.

	"Ziggy says that when you stood up to Howard a few minutes 
ago, you improved the probability from sixty-eight percent to an 
eighty-nine point three nine percent probability that you're here 
to get Perry away from his father so he can get the help that he 
needs."  Al glanced at Sam, glad to see a more positive expression 
on his face. He continued.

	"She says if you do that, there's a seventy-one percent 
probability that he'll go on to lead a relatively normal life...
considering what his life has been like up to this point."

	Sam felt his anger begin to stir at the reason for his 
presence in Perry Kirkwood's life.  Quickly he doused it with 
a mental exercise of pure quantum mathematical logic, and 
redirected his thoughts. Checking the pantry cupboard again, 
he found a package of Kraft macaroni and cheese and began 
preparing it. Next he set the table. As he took plates and 
glasses from a cupboard, something occurred to him.  He glanced 
at Al.  "What happened to Perry in the original history?"

	"I was wondering when you were going to get to that," 
Al said, taking the cigar out of his mouth.  Sam noticed he 
didn't bother to look at the handlink.

	"From what Ziggy's been able to come up with," Al began, 
"Perry disappeared on August 16, 1963 and was never seen or heard 
from again."

	Sam paused as he turned the hamburgers.  "Are you sure?  
>From what I've been through so far, I'm surprised his father 
lets him go to school alone. God knows how he'll react when 
Perry leaves for college."

	Al kept his face straight.  He wasn't sure Sam was ready 
to hear about Howard's views on that subject.

	"He didn't have anything to say about it," Al replied. 
He watched Sam's face as he said, "Howard Kirkwood died that 
same night."

	Sam hated responses like that.  It always meant that 
whatever he was here to do was about to get a little tougher 
to accomplish. "What happened?"

	"The house burned down sometime near midnight on the 16th," 
Al said. "But according to the autopsy report, the fire didn't 
kill him."

	"How did he die?"

	Al exhaled a long stream of smoke before answering. "The 
back of his skull was crushed by a single blow from a baseball 

	The kitchen was quiet for a few minutes as Sam finished 
turning the hamburgers.  He put ice in two glasses and filled 
them with water and set them on the table.  A couple of times 
he made eye contact with the Observer but said nothing. Finally, 
as he was removing the burgers from the skillet he spoke.

	"Was the killer ever arrested?"

	"Everybody in town thought Perry did it," Al said quietly. 
"But he disappeared, and even after a state-wide and nationwide 
manhunt he was never found.  It's like he disappeared off the face 
of the earth."  He went to stand beside his friend, noting the 
concentration on his face.  "Sam? You okay?"

	Sam glanced up from his reverie. "Yeah, I'm fine."  
Something occurred to him and he said, "You better have Gooshie 
adjust our mind sync."

	"Already done," Al responded. He was more than a bit leery 
of broaching the subject, not wanting to be the trigger for another 
outbreak by Aaron.  "Why? You getting a headache?"


	Al pulled the handlink from his pocket. "Well, I'm gonna 
go back..." 

	"No," Sam said a bit too quickly. "Stay.  Please?"

	Al nodded.  "No problem," he said, noting how quickly the 
subtle shading of fear in his friend's eyes vanished with his answer.

	Supper was a strained, almost silent occasion.  When the meal 
was finished, Howard left the table and went into the living room to 
watch television. 

	Al stayed until after Sam finished in the kitchen then took 
a shower.  Only when his friend was finally in bed, falling quickly 
into an exhausted sleep, did the Observer silently summon the Imaging 
Chamber door and return to the future.