Gets Tickled and the Fish Trap
by Janelle Meraz Hooper
Downtown Tacoma, the year 2100
The injured veteran took a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and checked the address. This was it: 2121 Pacific. He stepped back and surveyed the shiny, black glass that fronted the building. There was no sign outside. Whoever heard of a bus station with no sign?
He shrugged and walked through the door. Instantly, he found himself in a Cross Country Bus Station--a company that had been gone for years--with empty benches for waiting passengers on one side and a 1950s style luncheonette, complete with chrome stools and plastic counter, on the other. The waitress smiled at him and motioned for him to sit in the chair nearest the cash register. He noticed that every seat at the counter was filled, but no one was eating. Instead, they all seemed to be waiting for something.
Somehow, the young vet felt that he was part of the reason for their wait, although he couldn't imagine why. Another strange thing: all of the other diner patrons were Indians. They smiled as if they knew him.
He heard a rattle above his head, then a loud, girlish giggle. Looking up, he saw a huge fish trap, woven out of twigs above his head. The waitress said softly as she went past him, "You're next, honey, you take care now." The grateful man next to him cried out in delight when a live salmon fell from the huge basket onto the counter. There hadn't been any salmon in Puget Sound for years. The Indian picked up his thrashing fish, put it under his arm, and left. The next Indian moved up to sit in his place.
When the first fish came down, the veteran was sucked up into the trap. Just then, another vet hesitantly came through the door. The waitress smiled at him and motioned for him to sit in the first chair by the cash register.
The Indian next to him smiled and shook his hand.
"I am Running Water. And you are Pete."
"How did you know?"
"We've been waiting for you."
"Why am I here? Where am I going?"
"Up there." Running Water looked towards the ceiling.
Just then, there was a rattle up above, and a huge fish fell in front of the Indian man. At the same time, Pete felt himself being pulled up toward the ceiling. Running Water picked up his fish, put it under his arm, and left.
The next Indian moved up. Another veteran came through the door and was seated.
Meanwhile, Pete found it slow going as the trap narrowed. He was surprised that he wasn't in pain. At the end, his head bumped against the inside of the lid of an old iron potbellied stove. The lid rattled as Gets Tickled opened it. With no effort, she pulled Pete through the small hole into her kitchen that had a huge pile of live salmon in the corner.
"Who's down there now?" she asked Pete as she peeked through the hole. "Oh, it's Rocks Hard, she said. He and his wife are alone now." She picked up a smaller fish and threw it down. Rocks Hard waved and called, "Thank you, Gets Tickled!" A loud giggle answered him. He picked up his fish and went home.
The veteran who was pulled up the fish trap just as Pete came into the bus station was still in Gets Tickled's kitchen. Both men felt themselves pulled toward the beach outside Gets Tickled's front door.
"Hi, I'm Pete." Pete said to his fellow vet.
"Good to know you. I'm Charley. Have you noticed your pain is gone? Mine has."
"Yeah. When I first felt myself being pulled toward that contraption downstairs, I was sweatin' it. I've been in constant pain for months and I thought that being pulled up to the ceiling was going to kill me, but I didn't even feel it."
"The flight didn't hurt me either," Charley agreed.
"Check this out," Pete said to Charley as they approached two new lounge chairs, "lounge chairs with our names printed on them--just like Hollywood."
The two stretched out in the comfortable chairs and felt the warm sun soak into their skin. Their clothing changed to swimsuits.
"There are quite a few of us here." Charley said as he looked around the beach. "Maybe we should go over and introduce ourselves."
"Good idea. Just let me rest here for a little bit first. I want to savor this body that for the first time since the war isn't hurting me anywhere."
Pete fell asleep and Charley watched him softly breathe in and out. While Pete slept, another man appeared. So did a new lounge chair with the name Frank. Charley shook his hand.
"What the hell am I doing here?" the befuddled man asked. First, I'm getting off a plane in the middle of a desert, the next thing I know, I'm going through some crazy fish basket in a bus station diner."
"Were you on duty there?" Charley asked.
"Hell, no, I was there to pick up the body of my brother, who was killed in the desert war. "
"You went over there to pick him up? That's unusual."
"I know, but my mother has some kind of crazy idea that a man's spirit is still alive for days after he dies, and she didn't want my brother to be alone. She begged me to go pick him up."
"Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You must have been pegged as a soldier who fit the criteria of the rest of us."
"What criteria is that?"
"I don't know, Charley admitted. "We're hoping to find out more later on tonight."
"Are we dead?"
"We're not alive. I know that because I'm no longer in pain. Are we dead? Don't know. Must be."
"This, whatever it is, is a mistake. I've got to get back. I'm not dead. I'm not even sick."
Charley looked over to see that the whole crowd was moving toward tables laden with food. He was famished.
"Let's go eat. Maybe we'll find some answers while we're over there." Charley said.
Pete opened his eyes, saw the newcomer, and leaned over and shook Frank's hand. Nothing after today would surprise him; he supposed that the newcomer got there the same way he did.
"Pete, this is Frank. We need to see if we can get him back down through that Indian basket. He's here by mistake."
"Frank, you must have a hell of a story. I can't wait to hear it, but let's eat first."
It was a happy group that gathered around the food-laden table. The whole scene was like something out of a 50s beach movie.
"Where are we anyway?" Pete asked a man named John beside him.
"That's a common question around here. The best we can figure, we're in some kind of a holding pattern for vets. Maybe some kind of a dimension/purgatory kind of thing. None of us really knows." John loaded his plate while he talked.
"How long have you guys been here?"
John shrugged. "It's hard to tell. Maybe minutes. Maybe days. We're not sure if they have time here."
"That's fine for the rest of us, but Frank is here by mistake. How do we get him back on earth?" Charley asked.
"I don't know of anyone who has ever gone back. "Frank, can you remember how you got here?"
"I was slightly injured while I was in the desert, but I wasn't a soldier. My brother was killed over there." Frank's eyes searched the beach for his brother.
"Is his brother here?" Charley asked John.
"No, you guys are the only new men here."
"Why wouldn't he be here somewhere?" Pete asked. "Aren't we all soldiers?"
"Yes, but if you look around, there's not enough of us to account for all the battle deaths. We think that there's a common thread that brings us all here, but we don't know for sure what it is. For right now, let's try to figure out how to get Frank back home,"John suggested.
"Any ideas?" Charley asked.
"There's a girl here who seems to be the hostess. Maybe she'll help us out with Frank. Here she comes now." John lifted his arm and waved over a young woman wearing a swimsuit with a baggy khaki shirt pulled over the top for modesty.
"Hey, Lauren, can we talk to you for a minute?"
"Hey, Guys, whats up? Not enough food?"
"No problem there," the man joked as he surveyed the laden table. "We've got a stowaway here. This is Frank. He's not a soldier. He wasn't even injured."
"Where were you?" Lauren asked Frank.
"I was in the desert, picking up my brother's body. He was the soldier.'
"I haven't had a pickup scheduled there today. Do you remember anything?"
"I just remember that I picked up a little boy who was crying and helped him find his mother. All of a sudden, I was flying up into some sort of basket. I ended up here."
"I'll see what I can do." Lauren made a note on her clipboard.
"Have you seen my brother?" Frank asked Lauren.
"Frank, if your brother is dead, you'll never see him again. I'm sorry. Only a few wounded vets ever come here."
"What few is that?" Charley broke in to ask.
"Only soldiers who were trying to save someone else's life. We have other levels with soldiers from the other sides of the battle lines. We keep you guys separate so you can get some rest."
"We're dead and we still cant get along?" Charley asked.
"Dead? What makes you think you're dead? You're just moved to a different level, away from your real body, while you either go through difficult surgery or recover from a coma. Didn't you see your medical charts on the backs of your lounge chairs?" Lauren pointed to a pocket in the back of each lounge chair. Turning to Frank she said, "Let me check this out. I'll get back to you.
Sometime during the night Lauren gently shook Frank's shoulder. "Wake up, Frank. You were right. This was a mistake. You're going home."
"That's great. How?"
"I'll take you back. While I'm down there, I have a pickup to make. I have to pick up your little Arab boy and deliver him to the Mideastern level."
"What did he do?"
"He stepped in front of his mother to protect her from gunfire."
"When will he be able to go home?"
"He won't. At eight-thirty tomorrow morning the whole Mideast will be gone. Some maniac will use nuclear weapons and misjudge their power. Israel, Iran, Iraq--all of them--will be contaminated for years."
"Isn't God going to stop it?"
"I dont think so. From what I hear, He's had it with all of them."
"That's a story to take back home."
"Sorry. You won't remember this conversation or this place when you get back to earth."
Lauren's voice began to fade, and Frank began to hear his wife's voice plead as she shook his arm, "Frank, Frank! Are you okay?" Frank opened his eyes to find he was stretched out on a sidewalk on Pacific Avenue surrounded by 911 medics. Had it all been a dream?
"Honey, what are you doing in this part of town? We were supposed to pick you up at the airport--and where did you get this big salmon?" his curious wife asked.
Frank looked over and saw a huge salmon flopping around next to him on the sidewalk.
"Honey, I swear, I've never seen that fish before in my life," he said.
No one but Frank heard the girlish giggle that floated down between the office buildings. A big smile moved across his face, but he didn't know why.
Some of my favorite quotes:
"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." Catherine Aird
"They've got us surrounded again--the poor bastards." Icabod on KMPS radio, Seattle
"I'm not offended by all the dumb blond jokes because I know I'm not dumb--and I'm not blond either." Dolly Parton
"If you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you." Thomas L. Friedman 11-12-01 Tacoma News Tribune
"Courage is fear that has said it's prayers." Dorothy Bernard
"Everyone has a plan until they get hit..." Mike Tyson
"Be the change you want to see in the world." Gandhi
In memory of Pfc. Lori Piestewa, Iraqi War, 2003 ...
we grieve for you.
"A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it is finished. No matter how brave its warriors or how strong their weapons." Cheyenne proverb