|Red Granite Stones at Braewick Beach|
A section of a photograph by Mike Pennington
Richard usually liked staring out the window, but not this evening. His neighbor, Mrs. Gerkart, was standing still at her door, with her key in her hand. Richard didn’t like what he saw. He ran to her, but she disappeared. A small red granite stone lay on the stoop as her substitute.
“Okay. That was not real. No more coffee so late in the day,” he stuttered to no one but Sam, his red Persian. Sam looked at him as he would any other day, and returned to the house, to his nap on the couch.
Richard had had Sam only a month. He had followed Richard home from a walk. It was Don, his best friend at the college, who said he should keep Sam. “Give him a chance. You’ll be less lonely,” he had said while tapping Richard on the shoulder. Richard never learned where Sam had come from, but they settled in nicely together. Sam liked the food, warmth, and occasional attention that Richard gave him.
That night in bed, as he lay thinking about gorgons, Richard got an awful headache. He opened his eyes, and in front of him was a man in sandals carrying a large bag. The man wasn’t standing; he was two feet off the ground. Richard couldn’t breathe. The bag was familiar. He heard hissing—perhaps it was his fan. Sam leapt from the bed, making a most uncharacteristic sound for a cat, and ran out. Within a few moments, there was nothing, the room empty, and the fan was off. His headache was gone.
Richard blinked into the dark. Perhaps he had had too much salt at dinner. Sleep was now out of the question, so he went downstairs to make coffee. Mrs.Gerkart’s porch light was on. With no worries, but in need of distraction, he went back upstairs with his mug to the den, to work on a work-in-progress, Mythology and Modern Man. He taught ancient history at UW, but found mythology and its link to modern life fascinating and was slightly obsessive about it.
A half hour into his work, he noticed that Sam as nowhere around. Finding this strange, he went back down stairs—in his slippers, untucked USC t-shirt, Green Bay Packers pajama pants, and hair channeling Einstein—to look for him. Standing three feet from the stairs was Sam—stiff and staring.
“What’s wrong Sam?”
Sam didn’t move.
For only an instant, the headache returned and he saw the head of Medusa in Perseus’s hands. Perseus knew what he was doing.
Richard hardened and fell to the floor.
“Richard, I got worried about you when you didn’t attend the Spartan webinar with us last night,” Don was at Richard’s bedside at the hospital.
“Oh. I guess I forgot. What happened to me?”
“The doctors say you have toxoplasmosis. You probably got it from Sam. Your arthritis medicine weakened your immune system, and you got a brain infection. They have you on medications, so you’ll be okay now.”
Richard wasn’t too sure. “But Perseus had Medusa’s head. He was there, Don. And Sam and I were turned to stone." He knew Don wouldn't believe this. "Where’s Sam?”
Don knew Richard was confused, but toxoplasmosis could cause confusion, and Richard had been working too hard. “He’s at home, fine—eating tons and frisky as anything.” Sam was different, but okay.
“It seemed real. Mrs.Gerkart too, the neighbor. How is she?”
“I don’t know. She wasn't home when I went over there. Probably at her daughter’s house in, where was that? Michigan?” He looked unsure. “Get some rest now. I’ll be late for class if I don’t get going. Be back later.” He saw Richard’s upturned gaze. “It’s okay Richard. It wasn’t real.”
Richard was not too sure. There was a chill in the room, and the smell of water and rocks entered his sleep.
Don did not return later.