Pretty soon, Erik was back in Vale's brain, heading for the Atrium. "I'm going to start from the opposite side of the Atrium." He explained to Vale, heading to the right side of the Atrium.
Coming upon the first door on the right, Erik tried it. To his and Vale's great delight, it opened with out resistance. This room was floor to ceiling boxes. Not just floor to ceiling, but wall to wall as well.
Erik whistled, "Whew, Vale, I do believe we've stumbled upon something here."
"It's all sooty in here. The more I'm in here the more I'm convinced that you had a fire in here. I don't see how that's possible though. We'll have to come back to that. Meanwhile, let's see what's in these boxes." Erik moved towards the closest box. These boxes were more like crates, but he couldn't tell what material they were made from. He went to pry the lid from the box and got sooty hands. "This needs cleaning up. Badly." He told Vale as the lid came off. "Even the contents of this box are sooty!"
What's in it?
"It looks like lots of . . . Pictures! Or something . . . . I'm not sure." Erik reached out and picked up one of the flat sooty objects from the box. "Can you imagine that bucket and warm water again?" Erik asked setting the stiff flat object back in the box. "I need to clean in here first before I do anything else."
Vale agreed and then was silent as the bucket and warm water appeared. Erik cleaned everything in sight and then attacked the crate he'd opened. As he took out the first . . . thing . . . he washed the outside, carefully, then unfolded it. When opened, it became a stationary picture. The picture was blurry making things hard to see, and was also black and white. Since this one was clearly not going to tell him what it was, Erik picked up the next thing in the crate. This, too, he cleaned, yet try as he might it, too, just sat in his hands. One by one he pulled each picture from the crate and one by one he cleaned them off and one by one, they each did nothing.
By the time Erik got to the bottom of the box, he was frustrated almost beyond words. Carefully, he put them back in the box in the order they had come in. Discomfited, Erik told Vale she could let go of the bucket.
What's wrong? Vale asked at the sound of his voice.
"I went to clean the pictures in the crate, hoping they'd come alive, but every single one of them wouldn't come alive for beans."
I'm sorry, Vale offered.
"It's alright," Erik sighed. "I was so sure this would be the place that we would learn who you are. I mean, the first picture I pulled out—" he took it out of the crate, "—this one, was blurry, but I was—whoa!" Erik let out an exclamation as the picture started to move and twist in his grasp, as if asking to be let loose. Erik obliged and immediately the picture spun to the middle of the room where it expanded in short, jerky movements. As it filled the room, the picture became full of color and was no longer blurry.
Erik was no longer in Vale's brain but in a room, a dimly lit room. The fireplace was the only source of light. A man was sitting on a stool in front of the fire. Erik could tell he was dejected, because he sat there with his head in a hand. His hand was covering his face so Erik could not tell who he was. The man's shoulders began to shake and at first Erik thought the man was cold, until he realized the man was sitting by the fire. He was crying. A woman came up behind him, dressed in a simple skirt and shirtwaist covered by an apron, and began to massage his neck. Erik could hear her murmur soothing words as she bent over his back, letting her arms encircle his neck. His hand left his face and reached up to touch hers. Erik could tell the man said something, because his lips moved, but no sound came. The man slowly got up and turned around to embrace the woman. Erik was shocked. The man only had one arm.
The picture faded and got smaller. It flew to a wall and squeezed in between two of the crates to settle on a wall, faintly coloring the walls a blue that was barely discernable.
Oh Erik . . . Vale breathed, Those were my parents. I just know it.
"I have that feeling too. Did you see your father only had one arm? His shirtsleeve was pinned up. It probably happened during the war between the states."
"About fourteen years before I was born, and probably you too, the United States fought because the South wanted to succeed from the Union. It lasted for five years. My father fought in it the last two years because he was 'old enough.'"
Erik, what do you mean by 'old enough'?
"Well, if you were eighteen, you were allowed to join the army, but by the end of the war they needed so many reinforcements on both sides that they didn't care what age you were, just as long as you could hold a gun. Da never talked about it, but Mum has told me that Da joined up when he was sixteen. My age."
Unbelievable . . . Vale was quiet.
"Can we get back to work?" Erik said, a little disturbed by the course of their conversation.
Fine with me.
Erik picked up the next picture. This one he noticed seemed to be torn in half along the diagonal line. It wouldn't move and the reason, he presumed, was because it was broken. Sadly, he set it aside and turned to the next one in line. This one started to struggle the moment he held it in his grasp. As it flew out of his hands, it filled the room.
Erik, looking through Vale's eyes, could see a door which was opened by a hand. As the door opened, a bed came into view. The woman and the man from the picture of the fireplace were in the room. Vale's parents. Her mother was in bed looking tired and watching the persons at the door with shining eyes. She was cradling something in the crook of her arm. Vale's father stood up and gestured with his left arm. "Come in! Come in! Come see your little brother!" He said in a hearty deep baritone. Two older children passed Vale quickly, getting to the bedside first. A boy and a girl. Brother and Sister. Vale moved slowly towards the bed where her brother and sister were cooing over the baby. "How's my big girl?" her father asked drawing her close. "You're a big sister now!" Vale peered into her mama's arms to get a good look at her little brother. "His name is Benjamin." Her mother told her. The baby in her mother's arms was small and wrinkled with a reddish tint to his skin. Vale looked up at her mother, who smiled down at her.
The picture faded and slipped between the boxes, as the one before it had done, and settled on the wall blending yellow with the slight blue on the walls already, giving the walls a faint, pale greenish tint.
A baby brother named Benjamin. Vale mused. I wonder what he looks like now.
"You also have an older brother and sister." Erik reminded her needlessly. "Guess what Vale?"
"Both these pictures have colored your brain slightly!"
Really? What color is it?
"A very, very slight green. It was a very light blue after the first picture and then this picture added yellow and now it's a very light green!"
I wonder if all my memories do that.
"We can only find out. Let's get back to work!"
About an hour later, Doc stood on the bank of the river, hauling on the line of one of Erik's fishing poles. He had been having a particularly pleasant time watching the poles, enjoying the nature and occasionally conversing with Vale who reported to him what Erik was doing inside her head. From where he stood on the bank, playing with the line, Doc could see mountains rising near by above the tree tops. This constantly running body of water came from those mountains. They were the mountains of Tennessee. The little town of Waterboro not far from this secluded patch of willows was in the foothills of the mountains. These mountains sheltered the little town which was like most with a grocer and a druggist, two churches, Methodist and Presbyterian, and many houses, but not big enough or important enough for a train.
Doc had lived here almost a decade and every once in a while when he left go to a medical conference in a big city, he had felt as vulnerable as a mouse under an eagle's keen eye without the mountains there as a guard of sorts. Doc's mind turned to the small town. It was a friendly sort of place, small enough that everybody knew every body else.
There was a quicken on the line and Doc, knowing the fish was close to tiring, pulled in gently and landed a fine trout.
The whole place was restful. There was a laid backness about the place that a big city didn't have. Doc certainly wasn't as rich as he could have been, had he had a practice in even a larger town, but the friendliness, and the down to earthy style of the people here suited him. His grandson, Billy, had come out to stay with him last summer, sent by his parents to keep him company after his wife had died, and had liked it so much that he convinced his parents to let him come out again this summer. It is a pity Billy couldn't come today. Doc mused, but Billy, like so many 12-year-old boys his age had made some friends and would much rather have played with them. That was fine with him.
Doc looked up from gutting the fish as he heard a soft thud on the bank behind him. Erik stood there gasping as the pain from the movement hurt his ribs.
"How'd it go?" Doc asked from where he knelt.
"Pretty good." Erik gasped slightly.
"Are you alright?" Doc asked.
"I'm fine. I just jogged my ribs a bit. I'll be fine."
Vale joined them.
"So, what more did ya find out about the girl?" Doc asked.
"Well, she has an older brother--you tell him Vale."
"Thanks. Like Erik said, I have an older brother named Bard, an older sister named Cadence and a younger brother, Benjamin, who is called Benji. My father—" Vale smiled, "—it seems odd to say that—must have fought in the War Between the States because he's missing an arm, his right arm. My mother, well I think we only heard Father call her Maggie or Mother. Isn't that right Erik?"
"I think you hit everything. Doc, what time is it?"
"About time to eat," Doc answered looking at the sun, which was slipping slowly over the mountains in the west.
Erik helped Vale to the place where Doc was laying out the blanket that, upon inspection, proved to be what had weighed down the picnic basket so heavily. Vale sat next to the basket so she could play host. She sat there demurely with her good leg tucked under her skirts watching Erik and Doc string the caught fish, and hang them from a tree, until they were done eating. As they sat down she opened the basket and set out a loaf of bread, a cutting knife, some butter, a jar of preserves, a couple plump juicy tomatoes, some lettuce, some fried chicken from the night before, and last, but definitely not least in Erik's eyes, a small apple pie. Vale giggled as she saw an almost holy light come into Erik's eyes when he saw that pie. "You can have that later." She said putting it back in the basket.
"Say now, Vale," Erik wheedled, "couldn't I have some now?"
"No! You'd fill up on it and you wouldn't eat any of the other food Mrs. T packed. Besides, according to that light in your eyes, you wouldn't let us have any were you to get your hands on it."
Erik looked darkly at Vale and then went about making a chicken, lettuce and tomato sandwich, grumbling about "girls who make me do all the work in their brain and then won't give me a slice of apple pie."
Vale rolled her eyes and asked Doc, who was happily munching away, if he wanted anything else. He said no and told her to get something for herself. Vale promptly obliged, by imitating Erik, and making a sandwich, though hers was butter and preserves. After eating for a while in companionable silence, Erik lifted his head with a hungry gleam in his eye. "Can we have it now?" Doc laughed and Vale grinned and took the pie out of the basket. Erik grinned ravenously and sat back on his heels. Vale giggled and handed him the first piece. He looked like a puppy. He grinned at her and tucked in hungrily. Doc did likewise when handed the second piece. Vale thought them silly, until she too, had a bite of her piece. It was wonderful.
"Mrs. T is a superb cook." Vale said with her eyes closed and her mouth full. "I thought my mother's apple pie was good!" She added almost unconsciously.
Immediately, Vale's eyes flew open as she realized what she had said. Erik gaped and Doc looked dumbfounded.
"What did you just say?" Erik asked, more for the sake of hearing what she had just said, rather than because he was hard of hearing.
"I said, 'I thought my mother's apple pie was good!'" Vale said slowly as if savoring each word. "I have no idea where that came from, but Erik, I bit into that piece and knew that my mother made apple pie, but I also knew that it wasn't as good as this!"
Erik grinned slightly and looked down at his piece that was almost done. "Can I have some more?" he asked, the pleading look on his face. Vale was unable to resist his puppy dog-like eyes and obligingly gave him another piece. Everybody was able to have some more, and the second slices were enjoyed all around.
As they packed up the basket, Doc declared that it was time to go home. The only trouble now before them was that Erik was in pain, and they had fish, a basket and a bait can to carry home. Vale also would need help, though she stoutly insisted on walking home. Erik, it was decided, would carry the basket (now greatly lightened) with the bait can in it. Doc would carry the fish and help Vale. This arrangement suited everyone fine and they were able to make their way home. They went slower than when they had come, however, because now two of them were injured instead of one.