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Life of Jack


Chris Ruland

It was 1987 and the wedding took place in a small chapel just outside of the town of Santapel, Michigan. Jack and Mary Loane were both twenty-two years old and had moved to a house only three miles from town. Jack had painted the house himself and he set up a white picket fence around the front to match. They were too happy. With a pair of brand new Cadillacs in the garage, Jack thought that life couldn’t be better.

They had two children together, Jack junior and Lindsay; when Mary had a miscarriage when the kids were four and five they were taken to their grandparents’ house to stay for several days.

Years passed, the kids were ten and eleven. “Jack,” called Mary from the kitchen. “Did you see what’s on TV?” Jack walked into the kitchen where the smaller-sized television was turned on while Mary was doing the dishes.

“What’s going on?” he asked after taking a quick look at the TV.

“Look, Jack,” Mary replied. He looked and saw images of flames scorching a heavily forested area with black smoke billowing thickly into the air.

“So,” he said. “The annual Summertime forest fires. They happen every year.”

“Look at the location, Jack.” He looked at the bottom of the screen and read the words: ‘Just outside of Traverse City, Michigan. Headed East.’

“It’s headed right towards us,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” said Mary sarcastically. “What are we going to do?”

Jack looked at the television for a few moments and then spoke. “We should be fine, I am sure they will put the forest fires out before they get here.”

“Jack!” said Mary, in an almost hysterical tone. “What if they don’t get them before they reach us?”

“Everything is going to be fine, Mary,” said Jack, slightly raising his voice. He left the room thinking to himself how ridiculous it was for his wife to worry about such a small thing that really wasn’t even a problem.

Several days passed and news of the fire became more and more abundant. Everyone in the whole town was talking about it, and how they would probably have to evacuate. Jack would blow them off and never take anybody seriously, though.

One night, Jack was awoken violently by Mary. “Jack,” she said frantically. “Look out the window.” Jack opened his eyes and saw an orange glow on his ceiling. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, looking out the window. He could not believe what he saw before him. He threw on some clothes and ran downstairs and out the back. He stood on the porch as he watched an inferno engulfing the trees behind his backyard. A look of awe and shock fell over his face; he felt the immense heat of the fires pulsating towards him.

He ran around to the front and Mary was putting the kids into Jack’s car. As he started walking into the garage a loud explosion came from behind the wall. Mary was knocked forward onto the ground and blood spilled over the driveway. Jack was knocked to the ground and looked up to see his car engulfed in flames when he jolted awake, realizing that he had dreamt the whole thing.

He came downstairs and found Mary making a big breakfast. She smiled at him when she saw him. “Feeling okay?” she said. “It’s eleven thirty.” He looked at her oddly.

“Is it?” he said in a strange, almost mystical tone, his eyes wide open. He told her about his dream and she reassured him that everything would be fine. She told him that she saw on the television that morning that the firefighters had successfully defeated the fires and there was no more to worry about.

Jack went back to work as usual the next day. He worked late hours, and he seemed to feel no remorse about it.

Mary invited her parents over for dinner because she was hoping to get Jack to come home early for once. After sitting around for several hours the phone rang and Jack was on the line. “Mary,” he said. “I am going to be late again.”

“How late, Jack?” asked Mary.

“Probably not until eleven or later.” Mary hung up the phone and slowly walked into the dining room where her parents were sitting.

“Jack isn’t going to make it,” she said so softly that her parents could barely hear her. She sat down and buried her face in her hands and sobbed passionately.

“Mary,” said her mother. She came over and hugged Mary assuredly. “I am sure he will get better,” she said. “He must be going through a weird time in his life.”

Mary looked up at her sadly. “But you don’t see,” she said through sobs. “He has been doing this since our first year being married. It’s just gotten worse as time goes on.” She reburied her face. Mary’s parents grew sad. They were not angry with Jack, they felt nothing but pity.

Time went on and Mary spent many days at a river by their house with her two children. She tried to spend as much time as possible away from her house because she had so much hurt and sad memories there.

Jack began to spent sixty to seventy hours at his office per week. As Mary got worse emotionally, Jack became colder, harder, and altogether less happy.

Everything would change though. A time would come when Jack’s “perfect world” that he had tried to create for himself would be swept away like a leaf that falls onto the current of a rushing river.

That day came swiftly. Jack woke up and opened his eyes. He saw the ceiling above him, but it was not the cream color he had remembered it being. It was more of a brownish color. Jack didn’t think much of it because he was barely awake, so he rolled over and saw that Mary wasn’t there. He figured she had gotten up early but shock fell upon him when he rolled to the other side and looked at the wall. He jerked awake and saw that it was also brownish but it had splotches of mildew stains and mold and there were a few holes in the wall.

He looked around the room and saw that everything appeared old and worn out. He suddenly felt a chill and he turned to look behind him and saw that there was no glass in the window above the bed. He made his way down through the rotting stair case and almost fell when his foot went through one of the steps. He looked around and saw the house that he thought he knew so well. The downstairs was the same as the upstairs; rotting, moldy, and drafty. Every window had a few pieces of shattered glass around it, and all the appliances in the kitchen had been rusted out.  He went outdoors and sighed a sigh of relief when he saw that the trees and the road all looked the same. However, he turned to look at the exterior of his house and gasped when he saw that all the white paint was chipped off and the wood around the outside of the walls was splintering and some parts of the roof were caving in. He went into the garage to get his car to go into town. That was when he decided he would walk instead because the “Cadillac” was a rusted-out pick-up truck.

He finally made it into town after walking for an hour and when he arrived, every person there, the ones he recognized along with the ones that he didn’t, stared at him continuously. They followed him into the library where he went to look for a journalistic history of the town. He found the archives section and began reading newspapers. He went all the way back to four years before and found the headlines during the forest fire crisis.

The paper said that the town was to be evacuated. Evacuated? Jack didn’t remember anything like that. He looked for the next day’s paper and saw that it wasn’t there. The next paper he could find chronologically was not until a year later. It said that the town of Santapel was in the process of being rebuilt after a forest fire had swept through and burned it down.

He also found that almost every citizen of Santapel had returned to help with the restoration of the town. That was when he discovered the most shocking and mysterious headline of all. ‘Family Gone While Father Stays Behind.’ He read the article and discovered that it was written about him. Shocked, Jack read on. ‘After being married for seven years, Mary Loane left her husband Jack, taking her two children while Jack refused to abandon their home they have lived in their entire married life.’ Jack dropped the paper and looked around him. It seemed that the whole town had gathered there, watching him discover his real past that he had lived in for so long, obliviously.

He saw his close friend, James Traven. James was Jack’s employee who had worked for him ever since his company started.

“We were wondering when you would be back,” he said. Jack stared at him, speechless. “We all wondered where you went to after the funeral.”

“What?” he said.

“When you disappeared. People claimed that they saw you around your house, but no one goes that way too often anymore.”

“James,” said Jack. “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t tell me you don’t remember,” James said in disbelief. After several seconds of pause he spoke again. “The doctor, Jack. Remember the psychiatrist, Dr. Drant?”

“Yes,” said Jack, questionably.

“He told us that sometimes this happens when people lose loved ones. It’s like schizophrenia, only a lot worse. The person creates a world for themselves and lives in it, alone.”

“What are you saying?” asked Jack, now sweating in terror.

“She’s dead, Jack. Mary died while trying to save you. She took your children to her parents’ house and she came back for you, that night the fires came. She didn’t make it to your house, Jack. Some of us found her on the way out, but it was too late.”

Jack did not believe this at all.  “You are lying, I know you are. I don’t believe you.”

“Jack,” said James. “Look.” James picked up the newspaper and showed him the article which spoke of Mary’s death. Jack shoved his way through the crowd and ran outside. Everyone followed and watched him run to the river where he had spent so many hours with Mary from the time they were children until now. He fell down on the banks and cried endlessly, screaming for his life back.

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