Juan Ponce de Leon
“Here I sit,” the weathered old man said. He was lanky and his hair, once black as night, was now white as summer clouds. His threadbare, colorless clothing hung on his bones like tattered sheets in a breeze. He was alone.
“I am Juan, Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish knight and famed explorer,” he professed in a raised voice. “I’ve seen it all. You hear me?” he asked the air. “No matter,” he muttered. “It is time I tell what I know.”
He stretched his leg, long and too thin, and hitched up his trousers before resting his foot back on the polished, stone step. Behind him, the waters in the rectangular, white stone fountain lay calm and still. “When I came to this place, some five hundred years ago, the locals called it ‘ooki ungach haasi,’ the water of the sun. They warned us to stay away. Said it was only for the old ones. My men refused to go near it, but I was drawn in. It pulled me. ¿Entiendes? You understand?”
He rubbed his jaw, tilted his head to one side, and waited for a confirmation that only he could hear.
“This place was old even then,” he continued. “The trees surrounding it were thick and tall. Their fallen leaves covered the ground. Their branches were dense enough to block out the sun. I remember making my way down the narrow path for the first time. My sword held at the ready, I paused after each step and listened, expecting something to spring from the shadows and challenge me. It felt as if something was there, close, but just out of sight. I don’t remember breathing until I stepped past a gigantic tree trunk and saw the stone structure in the clearing.” He closed his eyes and smiled at the memory. “The sight of it brought a gasp from my lips. I let my sword fall from my hand. There was no need for it. This place was so full of peace. I’d seen great buildings, the finest cathedrals built by the greatest stone masons, but nothing could compare to this simple fountain. Look!”
The old man turned his palms up and spread his arms. “Look at them. Look at the stones that surround this well. See how they appear seamless, white and smooth as fresh linen on a fresh-made bed. They’re ancient, but look as if they were laid only this morning.”
“Over five hundred years I’ve been here. I’ve seen it all. I’ve watched each new arrival and I’ve waited for my story to play out as each of theirs has. But, yet I remain.”
He nodded to no one. “The trees are long gone. The first of them went less than fifty years after I arrived. I remember when the men came with their axes and saws. They cut down and cleared everything in as much of a direct line as you can imagine, right up to the well. At first, I feared they had come to destroy this place. I heard their whispers about how they hated it. No man among them, save their leader, Pedro and the woman that came with him, would even dare get close. I watched their arrival on that sunny day. I saw it all and understood none of it at the time.”
His eyes closed slowly. There was a slight quiver in his bottom lip and he sat for a moment before continuing. “After she was gone, that man, Pedro would walk up these very steps and sit on the edge. He stared into the fountain for hours at a time. He never drank and did not disturb the stillness of the waters. He just gazed into their depths.”
A grin eased onto his face. “It was by force of that man’s will that construction began on the first building here. His men worked day and night, driven by the promise that once the great hall was completed, they could leave. They used the lumber from the trees and the local stone. It took them two years and most died of fever before the task was complete. The few who lived to see the building finished, disappeared into the swamp soon after the last beam was notched into place. Only the man who led them, Pedro, remained.”
The old man’s brown eyes were softly unfocused as he looked toward the cracked and crumbling wall. “There were many others before I arrived. I have no doubt of that, but the leader of those men is the first I can speak of. I watched him die here.”
His grin faded for a solemn moment. “Funny how a man can have a fond memory of a death.” He blinked the thought away and smiled, “Pedro lived in the great hall, but after what happened to the woman, he spent an ever increasing amount of time sitting and looking into the waters. He’d sit for days, not even leaving to eat. He just sat, grinning happily down at the water like he was staring into the face of his lover.”
With a strong rocking motion, the old man pushed himself up and stood. Cautiously, he stepped down and walked a few steps forward before he stopped at the flat wall. He lifted his hand and patted it gently. “This wall, nearest to the fountain, is all that remains of that first structure. The rest is newer, added to and torn down as residents came and went. But it’s the fountain that makes this building more than it appears. I know the truth of it. I know what it is and of late, I’ve learned why it summoned me all those years ago.” He laid his head against the wall and spread his arms out wide. “Forgive me for the years I spent hating my circumstance and wishing I could leave,” he pleaded. “I didn’t understand then, but I do now.”
Inhaling deeply, he pushed back and turned around. He lifted his face upwards and called out, “I am Juan Ponce de Leon and I must now speak of this place.”
A sudden, hard breeze whipped dust into the old man’s face. He raised his arms to shield himself until it had passed. With one hand, he shaded his eyes and scanned the horizon. “These words on the wind will reach their intended ear,” he declared. “My purpose will be fulfilled. I will tell what I know.”
The Covenant Bridge
I know this one, very important thing. A man, my creator, taught it to me. It is something that as I lay here, defines my existence. You see things were not always as they are. There used to be nothing. That’s what the man said. There was nothing, but he could change that. He was a builder.
On the day that I began, so I’ve been told, he came with his followers. A small group of dedicated men intent on learning all that he could teach them. Seeing the chasm, he paused and gave them instruction. “What then, brothers,” he said to them, “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for the building up.”
So, they began to build and when they were done, I was left standing as a new covenant. The sides of this previously impassable ravine now in agreement to allow safe passage. The man was the first to cross.
That’s the thing I know, the way across. The man created me for that purpose and here I stand, in stillness, patiently waiting for all to cross over.
Just so you know, “Small Fish” is my upcoming work of fiction.
It tells the story of Stephen Crown, a blogger who takes on “big pharma” and the news media.
His popular blog, Discussion Questions, is light-hearted and aimed at the students of the local colleges. In it, he normally asks such deeply enlightened questions as; “Why is it that only sports teams have cheerleaders? What if the math department had some as well? Rah, Rah, Sis Boom Bah! Solve for X!”
That is until his father dies from an overdose of opiate painkillers. Stephen starts to doubt if all the advertising hype about the effectiveness and even the need for most drugs is valid. As you can well imagine, when he starts to research and speak out, he attracts the attention of the pharmaceutical industry. The darker side of which tries to prescribe a new type of cure for his particular malady. One that is to be administered by big men in black cars.
Book I, The Gold of Ophir
A customized, black truck chases Finley, “Finn” MacAdams along the gravel farm roads of West Texas. He doesn’t know who is behind the wheel, or why they are after him. Neither does he know that his life is about to change. The chase lands him in the hospital, where he narrowly avoids capture. Deciding he needs to lay low, he goes to visit his brother, Cross. Arriving at his trailer, Finn discovers that Cross is missing. The beautiful blonde woman he finds there claims she is an archeologist, a friend of Cross’, who is worried about him. She believes Cross has set out, fleeing his own capture, in search of the legendary city of Ophir, the biblical source of King Solomon’s gold. It all seems too far-fetched to be true until Finn is kidnapped and taken to Eritrea. There, in the hands of ruthless thieves, Finn must face his inner demons. There is no choice, he cannot run this time, not if he is to save himself and his brother.
Stephen Crown sat behind his computer. He moved his head from side to side, stretching to relax his neck without even noticing. It was Tuesday morning, his usual blog time. The time he most looked forward to. On a normal day it was his chance to entertain and challenge the minds of others with his humor. But today there was just too much pain and anger for entertainment. Today he needed to share something more somber.
Where do I even begin to talk to this? Gotta be honest, right? Okay, well here goes.
“My apologies for not posting last week and in advance for diverting from my usual upbeat style. Today I am much too full of sadness to be witty. You see, my father died last week. On Tuesday morning, he simply didn’t wake up.
My pops was addicted to painkillers and they killed him at age 44.”
There, that feels better, getting it out in the open.
“That is a poor elegy I know and there was so much more to him than that, but that is the one thing that defines his death. Even more so than the fact that he leaves behind a wife and a son.
His death began a year ago last April when he fell from the cab of his truck. He was a long-haul trucker and after he backed his rig up to the loading dock on a rainy night, he slipped getting out. It wasn’t a long fall, but he landed with straight legs, knees locked and injured his spine. He was in too much pain to stand, but luckily he had his cell phone and dialed 911. The paramedics found him still laying in a puddle.
The doctors prescribed opioid pain meds and between them and the constant flow of energy drinks, he was back on the road in days. We thought it was a miraculous recovery and credited it to his personal strength. We were wrong on both counts. It was not a miracle and he was no match for the pain or for the addiction.
His downward spiral began that easily, just a little accident and a little too much self-applied pressure to return to his job quickly. As he pushed himself the pain increased. So he took more of the painkillers. As he took more drugs, his tolerance grew, so he had to take more to reach the same relief. When the painkillers began to affect his focus, and the energy drinks no longer helped, he sought medical help and was prescribed a psychostimulant.
His story is not unusual. Forty six Americans die from painkiller overdoses every day.
I found three empty and two full bottles of his pain pills in his truck. In the medicine cabinet there were two more, but one was nearly empty, as was the one in the bag on the nightstand. Some rough math based on the dates and quantities and I estimate that he was taking twelve, 15mg tablets per day. That 180mg total dose was three times the normal amount.
The Sunday before he died was a slow drive day. A blown recap on the rear left dual had cost him nearly two hours. He pushed to get to his drop yard and then to get home on Monday night. One more push. One more pill. One too many as it turned out.
The thing is, Mom and I never knew how bad it was. I guess we were both naive. In hind sight, there were warning signs. His irritability for one thing. The new, small, leather man purse he carried everywhere now for another. His constant need for laxatives should have been the biggest clue of all. Even the fact that eight months ago he changed his normal route so that he now stopped for a full day in Tulsa, should have told us something. But it didn’t. He was Pops, I trusted him to be smart, honest, and to be there; and now, he isn’t.
So, dear readers, today’s discussion question: “How is it that the doctors that gave him the prescriptions are different from the drug dealers on the streets?” I really need to know.”`