CHAPTER TWO

The man walked the countryside looking at strange, alien objects. Tall things that spread out at the top and seemed to sway back and forth. To his right a small creature jumped in the air, landed on the ground a few feet away, then jumped again. It's twitching nose and long ears seemed to be searching for something.

In the distance a bright object seemed to drop ever so slightly in the blue expanse. Already the object was nearly out of sight. The object hurt to look at but it was also beautiful, though the man didn't understand this concept. He only knew that it had risen and set three times since he had found himself in the strange box floating in the water.

To his left stood many large objects. They were of varying heights and seemed to have holes in most of them. Brightness, similar to the object in the blue expanse, shown through many of those holes. And there were creatures that appeared to be similar to him moving about in the holes.

The man stumbled towards the large objects to his left. He didn't know why, but he felt that he should go there. He didn't know what any of these strange objects were, but most of them seemed friendly.

The man was dressed in a blue jump suit but the right sleeve was missing. The suit was ripped and dirty in many places. The boots he wore were also ripped and dirty. Scratches covered his face and his short brown hair whipped about as the wind blew across the area. A stubble on his face showed that he hadn't shaved in several days.

He stumbled into a yard and saw a young boy working in the yard. The boy was working on a bicycle, having turned it upside down and removed the chain. He was frantically trying to replace the chain but was having little success.

"Hey, mister? Are you okay?" The boy stared up at the man.

From the boy's point of view, the man looked like one of the homeless people he had seen on the evening news. Dirty with torn and dirty clothes, he looked like he had been sleeping in a dumpster.

The man just stood looking down at the young boy. He wasn't frightening but seemed more to be lost. Maybe he was injured, thought the boy.

"Hi," said the boy, "my name's Billy Johnson. Actually, it's William Earle Johnson II. I'm named after my grandpa. You been injured, mister?"

The man just stared down at him.

"Boy," said Billy, "you look like you've wiped out. I did that once on my bike. Busted my arm," he said, pointing at his right arm. "That was a couple of years ago, though. It's okay now."

Still the man simply stared at Billy.

"You got somewhere to say tonight, mister?" asked Billy. The man didn't answer. "If you want, you can stay in my tree house."

Billy pointed at the large oak tree in the yard. The man stared up at the tree house not knowing what the structure was.

"It's pretty neat. My dad helped me build it when I was seven. He's gone now. He died in a plane crash about two years ago. I miss him a lot. But if you want, you can stay there tonight."

Billy grabbed the man by the hand and led him over to the wooden planks nailed into the side of the tree creating a ladder that led to the house. He started to climb the ladder and when he was about half-way up he turned and motioned the man to follow him. Cautiously, the man began to climb the ladder behind the boy.

The house was small but well constructed. It had a single hole in the bottom which the ladder led to. There was a window in each wall and from their vantage point the two could see virtually the entire town. Some crudely made furniture adorned the house. Two chairs, obviously designed for children, a table, and a sleeping bag were shoved over in one corner. In the opposite corner sat a military-type foot locker conspicuously missing a lock.

The two climbed into the house and sat down on the floor. The sun had disappeared behind the horizon and the last rays of day quickly slipped away. Billy reached up and flipped on a light that hung from the ceiling.

"My dad was an engineer," said Billy. "I built the furniture and I helped him with the house. It took us all summer."

Still, the man only stared at the boy.

Billy went over to the footlocker and opened it. He drew out a bag and a small rectangular object. He sat down by the man and handed the bag to the man.

"Here's some donuts," he said. "Sorry I don't have anything else. I'll try to get you something else in the morning. This is a portable television I got for Christmas last year. You can watch it tonight."

Billy reached in the bag and pulled out a donut, stuffing nearly the entire pastry into his mouth. The man looked in the bag, and then imitated the boy's actions. Within minutes the entire bag was empty as the man devoured every donut in it.

"Boy," said Billy, "you must have been real hungry."

He flipped the on switch on the television and the screen jumped to life.

"Oh," said Billy, "Kung Fu Theater. These are real funny. They're made in China or Japan or somewhere and then they get American actors to put in the words. It's funny to watch 'cause the words and their mouths don't match."

He handed the television to the man. The man sat staring at the screen as if absorbing every image that flashed on the screen. He practically ignored the boy. Suddenly, a voice called to Billy.

"Coming mom," shouted Billy, as he leaned out the window that faced the boy's house. "Gotta go. You can use my sleeping bag. The weather man on the news says that the snowfall we had a few days ago was the last one for a while. He says that the weather should be almost like summer for the next couple of weeks.

"Anyway, the sleeping bag's probably a little small, but you can unzip it all the way and use it like a blanket. It's pretty warm, so long as it's not too cold out you should be fine. Make sure you turn the light off before you go to sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

Billy climbed out of the tree and headed for the house. The man had barely heard a word Billy had said. He sat engrossed in the images that he saw in the small screen of the television.

Billy was about to leave through the kitchen door when his mom came into the kitchen.

"What are you doing up so early?" asked his mom. Then she noticed the various groceries in the young boy's arms. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Uh . . . some of the guys are coming over this morning," said Billy. "I just thought I'd have some snacks for them."

"Bread, steak, coffee, pork chops, donuts, crescent rolls," said his mother, taking the items from his arms. "Some snacks. How did you plan to cook the steaks and pork chops?"

"Well," stumbled Billy, his voice trailing off. He had been caught. He had never lied to his mother before, but he knew what she would say if she found out about the stranger in his tree house.

"Okay, young man," she said, "out with it."

"Okay," said Billy, "but first you have to promise me you won't go off the deep end."

"What are you talking about?" inquired Billy's mom.

"Well, I sort of found this homeless guy in the back yard last night," said Billy, "and he's in my tree house."

"Homeless guy?" said his mom, looking out in the backyard at the small house built in the tree. Through the window of the tree house she saw only the head of the strange man Billy had taken in the night before. The man was looking down as if reading a book.

"What do you mean 'homeless'?" asked Billy's mom.

"He came into the yard last night just before dark," said Billy. "His clothes were ripped and dirty and he looked like he hadn't had a bath in a week. I only wanted to help him, mom. He's real nice, though he doesn't talk much. And he devoured the donuts I had in the house last night. I don't think he's had much to eat lately."

Billy's mom stared at the man uneasily. Every day on the news it seemed there was a new report of children disappearing or another man who had been accused of molesting children.

Billy was twelve years old and his mom felt he was very mature for his age. But to take in a stranger worried her. Still, Billy didn't seem to have been injured or bothered in any way. Billy's mom walked out the back door and walked to the tree. She stared up at the opening in the house.

"Hello?" she said. "Sir, can I speak to you for a moment?"

The man leaned over and looked down at the woman. She was attractive, wearing a red suit and a frilly, lacy shirt. He blond hair hung to her shoulders and was tied back in the back. It was a flattering style and made her look younger than she must actually be.

"I'm sorry," said the man, beginning to descend the ladder. "I don't want to be a bother to anyone. I guess I was kind of lost and Billy was kind enough to let me stay in his tree house last night."

The man reached the ground and stood in front of the woman. He was a large man, standing just over six feet. From his physique, it appeared that he worked out. He hadn't shaved in several days, but even the stubble on his face made the man seem almost friendly.

"I'm Sharon Johnson," said the woman. "I don't want to appear rude, but Billy knows better than to talk to strangers."

"I understand," said the man. "It's not a very good idea. But I don't want to be a bother to anyone. Billy helped me when I needed it and I'm grateful."

The man was very charming. He reminded Sharon of some of the clients at the law office where she worked. As the secretary and receptionist for the law office, she met everyone who came through the front door.

"I'm sorry," she said, extending her hand, "I didn't catch your name."

"I didn't throw it," said the man smiling, shaking her hand. The joke didn't seem to amuse her, though she smiled: slightly.

"Actually," said the man, "I'm afraid I don't know my name. The first thing I remember is waking up near a creek. I guess I wandered in a daze until I came to your yard. Then, as I said, Billy let me stay in his tree house."

Sharon's brow wrinkled, indicating she was considering the man's story. Something about the man put her at ease, though she was still wary of any stranger. Somehow, she believed this man's story about amnesia. She took him into the house and put on a pot of coffee. Then she cooked some bacon and eggs for the three of them to eat.

"You don't remember anything?" asked Sharon, sipping her coffee.

"Not a thing," said the man. "Like I said, the first thing I remember is waking up near a stream. I guess I stumbled around in a daze because my memories of the last couple of days are very disjointed. Even when I came into your yard last night, I don't remember things very clearly."

"You wouldn't talk," interjected Billy. "I thought you might be dumb."

"That's mute," said Sharon, shooting a warning glance at Billy. She still hadn't talked to him about bringing a strange man into the yard. "Listen. I have to work this morning. But one of my boss's clients is a doctor. I'll give him a call and see if he'll come over and take a look at you. Maybe there's something he can do to help you get over this amnesia."

"You're very kind," said the stranger. "But I don't want to be a bother."

"Well," said Sharon, "we can't just turn you out on the street. Besides, if there's something wrong with you, Craig should be able to find out."

"Thank you," said the man. "I'd like to do something to pay you back for all the help. I don't want to be a burden."

"We'll see," said Sharon, getting up from the table. "Billy, your grandfather will be home in about half an hour. You know how he is, so let's keep," she looked over at the amnesiac, "him in the tree house until I get home. I want to talk to grandpa before we tell him what's happened."

"Okay, mom," said Billy. "What about the food?"

"Well, let's just stay with the stuff that's already prepared," she said. "Sandwiches and things like that. Billy, why don't you get some of your father's clothes for him to wear? That jump suit has about had it. I'll be home in plenty of time to fix supper, so don't worry about that. Stay out of trouble, dear."

She kissed Billy on the forehead, and then left for work.