Pennies for the Ferryman - 01

BOOK: Pennies for the Ferryman - 01
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Gryphonwood Press

DEAD EYE- PENNIES FOR THE FERRYMAN. Copyright 2009 by Jim Bernheimer

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American copyright conventions.

Published by Gryphonwood Press

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons is entirely coincidental.


ISBN 13:

Printed in the United States of America

First printing:
May, 2009



Dedication and Acknowledgements

As with most dedications, I’d like to thank my wife and daughters for putting up with all my foolishness.
Kim is the best thing to ever happen to a bum like me.
Close behind are Laura and Marissa.
My life is so much richer because they are a part of it.

My sister-in-law, Shannon Farrell came up with this striking cover art.

Next I have to thank John Cornell.
Originally, this was going to be “by Jim Bernheimer and John Cornell.”
He stepped back saying that he didn’t feel his contributions warranted coauthor status.
I disagreed, but respected his wishes, so I’ll have my revenge by thanking him profusely here for the many hours we spent discussing this project, the long series of edits and rewrites, and some of the rich characterization he helped add to the narrative.
I salute you sir, for you are a great man.

I also must thank Ted and Pam Vinzani as well as Matthew and Lindsey Schocke, for the edits and commentary that helped keep the story flowing. Chris Morton, Mike Skoglund, Mike Fairbanks, Lynda Sappington, Cheryl, Anne Walsh, Beth Hartung, Keith and Dorothy McComb, Tim Joy all get a cheerful thank you for the support they lent.

Also, my friends at Alpha Fight Club (Sean Melton, Brian Albright, Steven Avery, Dave Smith, Dave Bagini, Ivan, Moses, Charlie, Carson, Dave Waicukauski, Rob Yurkowski, Chris Gibson, Colin, Benny S., Noel, Heather, and any I missed) were instrumental in helping me smooth the storyline and minimize potential plot holes.
Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

I’d like to thank Mr. Wood for taking a chance on my manuscript.
I hope this venture will prove to be more than we ever hoped for.
The folks on both the Gryphonwood Press writer’s forum (especially Ryan) and “The Pit” at Permuted Press require my thanks for all their efforts aimed at making me a better writer.

Finally, I want to thank my small but growing fanbase and the readers of my other stories.
To the folks at DLP and all the people who’ve followed my works from the beginning, thank you.
Hopefully, the day will come when you can say that you thought I was good long before I “made it.”
We’re a long way from there, but thanks for sticking with me so far.




Episode 1: Origins


I volunteered for Mr. Bush’s war. A few years later, a roadside bomb selected me for something else altogether. Now, I help people with ghost problems. Occasionally, I help ghosts with people problems. No one really helps with my problems. This is my story.


I didn’t mind driving a Hummer, except for the fact that I was usually the gunner. A change in assignments could sometimes break up the monotony, but today something was bothering me. The lieutenant, freshly minted from OCS, had decided to micromanage our assignments, switching us to different posts. So, I wasn’t up on the M240, I was at the wheel, staring at the back of a truck for the better part of fifteen miles.

We were “monkey in the middle” with a bunch of trucks in front of us and even more behind us. Personally, I’d have rather been at the front or the back.

“Just another day in paradise, men,” Sergeant Don Hodges said from the passenger’s seat. I was already on pins and needles, and his comments pushed me closer to the edge. Something was just giving me the “heebiejeebies” and I couldn’t shake it.

Hodges continued, “There’s talk of possible sandstorms moving in from the west. Stay tight and keep a sharp eye out. Porkchop! I don’t want to see you daydreaming up there.”

PFC Davis grunted an acknowledgment back at Sarge, just before all hell broke loose. The deuce and a half in front of us was brushed by the blast like a toy truck instead of the real thing.

We spun out of control and tumbled. I heard a crunching sound while feeling pain in my head and legs. The engine on the vehicle revved louder and then seized with a violent thrash.
Our Hummer, well technically, the 1
Armored Cav’s Hummer, was on its side and smoking. I reached out and felt something. It was Porkchop’s leg.

It wasn’t attached.

My head lolled to one side. A rusty crowbar was embedded in Hodges’ chest. I couldn’t make out his words over the ringing in my ears. I guess it’s just one of those things I’ll probably never know what he was trying to say, because Hodges died seconds later.

Someone pulled my tattered body out. The Sarge and Porkchop both went home in boxes. Me, I was still under warranty, so they shipped me back for replacement parts, but I turned out to be beyond “fixin’,” so they gave me some lovely parting gifts, the thanks of a grateful nation, some free medical care, and a tiny paycheck I’ll draw for the rest of my life, as they showed me the door.

That’s when my problems began.


Some places have associations that are forever burned in the tracks of my memory. At Fort Hood, it was the oppressive heat and fierce thunderstorms. In Iraq, it was the stench of sweat, sewage, and gasoline combined with charred hair. Back home in Maryland, it was the whispering.

Nearly eight months after the fateful day I almost lost my life, I found myself catching a Ride-On bus from the Shady Grove Metro station. As my scars fade and my gait is no longer unpredictable, the whispering has receded, but when I’m on the Metro, I still hear people whispering, see adults trying not to stare, and children scolded about pointing. That morning, a solemn young boy, maybe five years old, stared at me for ten minutes before asking, in a loud voice, “Why does dat mans haf a potch?” He didn’t know that these questions were supposed to be whispered. After being shushed by the older woman sitting next to him, I expect that he knows that now.

I was on a bus headed back to college, medically discharged from the US Army, wearing the aforementioned eye patch. I had just returned from having stitches taken out of my right eye. My body hadn’t rejected the cornea transplant – yet. I’d made it this far, so things were looking up.

Tiny scars crisscrossed the right side of my face. I’d been told they gave me a roguish quality. They were a constant reminder of how close to death I had been that day and how lucky I was to be alive.

My vision was poor but improving. At least with my eye, I was dealing with civilian doctors instead of the jackasses at the Veterans Administration, the ones who couldn’t do anything about the lack of hearing in my right ear. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t kvetching about every little thing. I was quite grateful I didn’t have to use a cane any more.

Returning to the moment, I realized that if there was one thing that I’ve always hated, it’s public transportation. With my messed up eye, I couldn’t drive. Having to take the bus left me feeling like I wasn’t in control of my life. Who knew what kind of day the bus driver was having? There’s also a social stigma associated with people on buses. The Metro trains aren’t so bad – everyone uses them – but buses seem to have a bad reputation. A few years ago, I looked at the slobs getting on the Ride-On buses and thought that life had really kicked those people in the face. Now I know how right I truly was.

Of course, the last time I had been behind the wheel hadn’t turned out to be the highlight of my life. Survivor’s guilt is a powerful thing.

It was tempting to blow off classes and just head back to the couch and the six pack of cheap beer waiting in the fridge. Instead, I got off at the stop for Montgomery College, known affectionately as “MC” by students. I headed toward my English class, bemoaning the fact that years earlier, I had been a classic underachiever in high school, and that in the Army all I wanted to be was a “ground pounder.”

With a slight aptitude towards computers, I enrolled at MC. I was a General Studies major with plans to take as many hardware and software classes as I could. With all the Federal Government jobs in the area, I figured that my time in the Army, coupled with computer skills and disabled veteran status, would translate into money in the bank. That was the plan, but plans change.

The college gig wasn’t bad, but it was strange to be a freshman at the age of twenty-three. I’d been looking for a part-time job to earn some extra money. Everything I’d found I either wasn’t qualified for, or it interfered with my class schedule. Classes came first.

I slid into my seat just as the class started. We were three weeks into the term, so I didn’t really know anyone, though a couple of people called me “Pirate Dude” because of the eye patch and long black hair. Mom wondered if I was going for the Johnny Depp look. My few friends had already graduated college and seemed to be more interested in getting on with their busy lives than spending time with a cripple. I guess my friends weren’t much in the loyalty department – or maybe I just wasn’t much fun to be around.

Jenny Goodman, one of my new acquaintances, sat next to me. She was short, female and decidedly attractive. At five-foot-six, I towered over the cute little brunette with short curly hair and two perfectly functional blue eyes. Fortunately, she was on my left side so I didn’t have to ask her to speak up.

She smiled and said, “Arrgh, matey!”

My attention was drawn to the sling around Jenny’s left arm. She held her pen clumsily in her right hand. “Why the good mood?” I asked.

“I fell and sprained my wrist. As for the good mood and silliness, well, that’s the Vicodin talking.”

“Be careful with that stuff,” I cautioned, knowing full well from my own rehabilitation how tempting that little white pill could be. “Why don’t you let me take notes and we’ll run them through the copier after class?”

She refused at first, but after trying to scribble a few lines with the wrong hand, she gave up in frustration and agreed. Writing kept me from falling asleep from sheer boredom.

Near the end of class, I felt a little twinge in my bad eye, so I pulled my drops out and tilted my head back. The doctor wanted me to keep it moist and covered for the next week or so. I shook my head to swirl the medicated drops around, then returned my head to the normal position. Normally, I would flip my eye patch back over, but something stopped me.

There was a blurry figure standing next to Jenny. I hadn’t seen any older women in this class. Where did
come from? I covered my bad eye to get a better look, but she disappeared. Taking my patch off again, she reappeared!

BOOK: Pennies for the Ferryman - 01
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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