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2017 August 16, Wednesday
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F
Drifters
by Robert T. Jeschonek
First published online on 2005 September 21.
Editor’s Foreword
Is senile dementia a mark of a declining brain or a sign of its expansion to new abilities others cannot quantify?
SFFH: Article

For hours at a time, old Martin sat and stared at the woman no one else could see. His wife, Molly, no longer interrupted either his staring or his attempts to get the woman to speak to him...though Molly avoided the corner of the living room where Martin said the mystery woman sat in her rocking chair.

As much as Molly believed the woman was a product of Martin’s dementia, she thought it possible that the woman was something else. Maybe, she thought, the illness that was stealing Martin’s mind had left behind a dark gift; maybe, though his intellect and personality were tearing free, he could see things others could not.

Whatever the woman was–delusion or ghost–he said she was old but beautiful. She crocheted afghans as she rocked. She stared into space, but never in his direction. She spoke, but he could never hear a word she said.

The name on her sewing bag was Elizabeth.

* * * * * * *

While Elizabeth rocked and crocheted, she stared at the man no one else could see.

At first, her daughter, Rebecca, had thought he might be her father, who had died in the Civil War. Now, Rebecca just thought the man was a figment of Elizabeth’s senility.

The old woman who had once been a teacher, a champion of reason and learning, claimed she saw an ancient Indian in the corner of her parlor.

Often, Rebecca walked through the corner to dispel her mother’s delusion, to wake her from the childlike slumber into which her shining mind had been sliding.

But Elizabeth wasn’t coming back. She kept watching the Indian, though he never looked in her direction. She listened when his lips moved, though she could never hear a word he said. She spoke to him, but he never answered.

He just sat on the floor, huddled in a blanket of skins, eyes squinting at something Elizabeth could never see.

* * * * * * *

Old Running Cloud’s mind was dissipating like a morning fog. He had lost everything, and now he was losing himself, too.

The Whiteskins, welcomed in friendship three summers ago, had forced his tribe from their homelands. Most of his people had been wiped out by disease, starvation, and settlers.

Now he sat, fading like the embers of his dying fire, and had visions.

On the opposite side of the teepee, he saw a creature that looked like a fur-covered man. The fur was gray, the creature’s face wrinkled and cracked.

The creature squatted in the dirt and weakly chipped with a stone at a pale piece of flint. No one who entered the teepee could see him except Running Cloud...and Running Cloud, for his part, seemed to be invisible to the creature. The creature looked up often, but never at Running Cloud; his eyes focused on a point to one side, a point of nothingness on the teepee’s blank wall.

Either nothingness or something or someone that Running Cloud could not see.

Robert T. Jeschonek wrote “The Secret Heart of Zolaluz,” a Seven of Nine story in STAR TREK: VOYAGER: DISTANT SHORES, and the e-book novella STAR TREK: S.C.E.: THE CLEANUP from Pocket Books. He also contributed the Burgoyne adventure, “Oil and Water,” to STAR TREK: NEW FRONTIER: NO LIMITS, edited by Peter David. Robert’s story, “Our Million-Year Mission,” won the grand prize in STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS VI. His credits include the prize-winning “Whatever You Do, Don’t Read This Story” in STRANGE NEW WORLDS III, “The Shoulders of Giants” in STRANGE NEW WORLDS V, and original science fiction and fantasy in publications ranging from ABYSS & APEX to THE LOYALHANNA REVIEW. Robert’s latest comic book work appeared in the British humor anthology COMMERCIAL SUICIDE and the SILENT SCREAMS and WAR anthologies from Saddle Tramp Press. Currently based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Robert spent over a decade as a television producer/director. He is a graduate of the Oregon Coast Professional Fiction Writers Workshops conducted by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

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