“It’s mostly just a nuisance”, the nurse said in response to my questions. “Nobody has actually been hurt yet. Kinda like when he was alive. But he is making that room unlivable, depriving other elderly clients of proper care.”
“What kind of mischief has the recently departed Mr. Waterbee been up to?” I took a few steps around the small living quarters of the retirement home. Sheets had been ripped off the bed. The table and chairs had been knocked over. And water dripped where it shouldn’t be in the tiny kitchen area.
“You can see the worst of it. If anyone was watching television, he would keep changing the channel to Animal Planet. Nobody could sleep in here, and one even got tossed out of bed.” She walked over and lifted a chair. “He never liked anyone touching his things.”
The television flipped on to a documentary on the story of a dog saving its owner who broke his leg while hiking.
“Always the dogs,” the nurse chuckled as she grabbed up the remote.
“Babe,” said a voice from behind us. Shay and Calvin stood in the doorway.
I walked out into the hall and kissed her on the cheek. “Hey, gorgeous. What did you guys find out?”
Calvin stuck out his tongue in disgust.
“Well, there were only a few locals his age still alive. it took some digging, but I think they all agree that Mr. Waterbee had always been quite a handful his entire life.” She pulled out her trusty notebook she always used when investigating a ghost. “One woman, however, thinks that things took a particular turn for the worse in the summer of ’39. When he came back to school after the break, he was meaner, and more unreasonable than ever.”
I sighed. “Well that narrows it down. We’ll take a few jumps through the summer months to see what happens. You ready, Calvin?”
Calvin’s shoulders slumped, and he groaned. “Do I have to?”
“Have to?” Shay repeated. “You ‘get’ to. You think many kids get to see actual evidence of ghosts and travel through time to try to help them? Besides, if I left you alone in a town none of us have been to before, that would be incredibly irresponsible parenting. Get your stuff.”
“You bring your son to exorcisms?” the nurse asked from behind me.
“He’s not my dad,” Calvin spat.
Shay whacked him on the shoulder. “Step-dad. So, close enough not bite people’s heads off about it.”
I turned a smile to the nurse. “There’s nothing dangerous about what we do, so he gets to come along for the ride when we have him.”
Calvin rolled his eyes at us adults.
“Anyway,” Shay said, “we’ll get started on Mr. Waterbee right away. Let’s go, my handsomes.” Calvin and I followed her to the entrance of the retirement home.
“But the ghost is in here,” called the nurse, pointing to the late Mr. Waterbee’s old room.”
I waved. “But that isn’t the source of the problem.”
We drove to the outskirts of the small, midwestern town and found a suitable field to set up. The equipment didn’t take long to prep, since we were so practiced at it, but assembling a time-machine had to be precise work. Setting the dial to the desired date, I activated the machine. The three of us watched the world warp around us. Light bent, warped, and shifted through all the colors of the rainbow outside our tiny bubble. And in what seemed no time at all, it was all back to normal. The surroundings were slightly different, but it was the same field.
“I’ll go into town and check up on…what was his first name?”
“Gregory,” my wife answered as she set up a lawn chair to wait for my return. Calvin started to wander around the field, kicking stones.
I found out where the young Mr. Waterbee lived on that first outing, and after a few more jumps of observing his behavior, we narrowed whatever turned his heart sour to the last few days of summer vacation.
“I’m bored,” Calvin said as he put down his tablet with an apparently dead battery.
“You know what?” I said after a quick thought. “We’ve been at this a few hours, and a break does sound good. Let’s hide the equipment for a bit and check out the ice cream shop I saw. I should have a few older coins they’ll take.”
The short walk was pleasant enough in the bright summer sun. It had been a while since I had heard insects buzzing like that. I ignored any perceived complaints about how warm a person was. We were going to get ice cream, after all.
The bell over the door jingled as we walked in to join a few others from the town escaping the heat. Soon, I left with a chocolate cone, Calvin had vanilla, and Shay had a cup of cool water. I smiled at her dislike of sweets as I caught a chocolatey drip on my tongue.
We watched the townspeople go about their lives from a unique perspective that only time travelers could appreciate. While it was very similar in some ways, others were so alien at that time, that Calvin couldn’t help but screw up his face in confusion at the way things were different. I looked forward to the him he would start taking history classes.
As soon as his ice cream was gone, Calvin got on a little sugar high. He jumped on the low branch of a tree where Shay and I sat in the shade.
“Be careful, hon,” she told him.
“Eehhh,” was the only reply he gave.
I watched as a group of children played hopscotch on the sidewalk across the street. A stifled sniggering came from behind me and I turned just in time to see Gregory Waterbee jump up to grab the branch that Calvin had his legs wrapped around.
The crackling snap of the branch shot straight to my heart, which tried to recoil through my back. Calvin and the branch came at the ground fast and crumpled into a heap. Gregory was already skipping away with a laugh.
Calvin’s mother and I were next to him in less than a second.
“Are you alright?”
“Can you move?”
“Is anything broken?”
Several worrisome seconds later, Calvin gasped in the breath that had been knocked out of him. He got to his knees, coughing.
“What happened?” Shay asked.
“That,” I answered, “was Gregory Waterbee.”
They followed my gaze to the giggling little twerp as he approached the corner of the block.
Calvin got to his feet and took a couple steps toward the other child.
“Careful, buddy,” I warned. “Remember why we are here. We don’t want to make things even worse.”
“I won’t hurt him,” Calvin said as he jogged toward the prankster.
My step-son neared the other boy, and only then did I notice that Gregory had another follower. A dog, a young chocolate lab, bounced around at his heels. They had almost crossed the street to the park when the puppy noticed something in the road that caught its interest.
Calvin reached the corner and saw the dog, but Gregory hadn’t seemed to have noticed that his companion wasn’t following.
As the sound of a rumbling engine came to my ears, Calvin’s head turned down the road to the car that I knew was coming. In that instant, I knew we were at the moment of Mr. Waterbee’s turn for the worse.
Shay and I ran to catch up to Calvin, but just as I got close enough to see the approaching vehicle from around the corner, he jumped out into the road, waving his arms at the car that hadn’t seen the dog.
“Hey! Stop!” Calvin yelled.
“Calvin, get back here!” Shay yelled.
Gregory turned around then to see the horrific scene centered around his puppy.
The distracted driver finally noticed the boy waving his arms in the road and slammed on the breaks. But he wouldn’t stop in time.
Calvin seemed to notice this too, and he dove for the oblivious dog, rolling just out of the tire’s reach.
Gregory came running. “Slobby!”
The driver got out as Shay and I reached Calvin.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
He winced as he stood with the dog in his arms. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”
The driver apologized profusely until he saw Gregory walk up to the puppy. “Little punk,” he grumbled. “Woulda served ya right if I hit it.”
I glared at the man, who realized I was willing to fight. He tipped his hat, got in his car, and disappeared.
“Here’s your dog,” Calvin said as he handed the licking pup to Gregory’s outstretched arms.
“Thanks. Did you get hurt?”
Calvin looked at a hole in his shirt. “Just scraped up a little.”
Gregory’s eyes lingered on a pebble on the ground. “Sorry. About the branch, I mean.”
“Yeah. You shouldn’t treat people like that,” Calvin scolded.
“Luckily, there was no harm done,” I interjected. “Some people will treat you the same, or worse, if you keep that up, young man.”
Gregory looked up at me with an eyebrow raised. “But he didn’t,” he said, indicating Calvin. “He saved Slobby.”
Shay laughed. “That’s because, deep down, Calvin knows that helping others is always the best thing to do.”
Calvin scoffed. “Whatever, mom. You know I like animals, even if it wasn’t a cat.”
I laughed along with my wife.
Gregory smiled at the banter. “You wanna go swimming at the reservoir with me and Slobby?” he asked Calvin.
Calvin’s eyes lit up and he looked at his mom with pleading eyes.
“I’ll go get your swimming trunks,” I offered. “You guys go on, and I’ll meet you there.”
The rest of the day was spent in a peaceful play that put my heart at an ease that it hadn’t found since my own childhood.
When we returned to the present and the retirement home, I approached the same nurse at the front desk. I saw in her face that she didn’t recognize me, and I knew we had done our job.
“Hi, you don’t know a Mr. Waterbee, do you?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, “but he doesn’t live here. He lives with his family a few blocks away.”
“Ah. I must have gotten turned around. Thanks.” I left without another word.
I couldn’t keep the corners of my mouth from turning up at the thought of my family and the good they could bring to the world.
I don’t often have dreams that involve more than one person I know in my life, but when I do, they are usually just along for the ride. This is one of the few times that they have played major, if not leading roles in my dreams. And this is the very first time that Calvin, my step-son has been in my dream. When I told him about it, he gave me one of his typical responses. “Eehhhh.”
But for me, this was a significant dream. It showed me how much he is becoming a part of my life. We might not have the chance to see him every day, but his mother and I are constantly worrying about him and thinking of ways we can help him grow into his full potential. He is also changing the way I think about lots of things, one of them being the influence elders and parents have on children. I am not saying I came into this as a perfect parent, or that I am becoming a perfect parent. What I am saying is that his behavior makes me think harder about how his actions affect his mother and I, and how my actions affect the two of them. I’m sure he isn’t doing this on purpose, but if nothing else, I am thinking more critically in those areas. He seemed to be playing a similar role with Gregory in the dream, only a bit more blatantly. He demonstrated that he could have a significant change in that grumpy old man’s life.
This whole concept can be said to be derived from the idea of the butterfly effect, where tiny actions can result in huge consequences that might not be immediately foreseen. Now, this isn’t a unique idea at all. And it certainly isn’t anything new in a time traveling story. But it is something that I think is worth consideration. And this dream helped be see it in an way I hadn’t looked at it before.
Calvin is not the only one with the power to change the lives of others by simple actions like he did in my dream. Every single person has the power to use their kindness and care to change the lives of the people around them for the better. This truly is an awesome power. And as my favorite superhero often says, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
So the question then becomes uncomfortably personal. Am I using the power I have to influence the lives of those around me to enrich and bring happiness, or am I using it in such a selfish way that it degrades and brings misery to others? I believe I need to ask myself that question more often. It needs to be more at the forefront of my mind in any human interaction I have.
The great thing about this whole idea is that, most of the time, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort on our part to do what is best for those around us. Calvin wasn’t trying to show Gregory how being kind and helpful can make everyone’s lives happier when he risked himself to save a puppy. He just wanted to save a puppy. In fact, he had been on his way to tell off the kid, which I imagine could have had the opposite effect. People are often childish, petty, and do things out of spite if someone points out that the way they are living their life is hurtful and self-destructive. But that simple act of protecting a dog, which Calvin would have done anyway, showed a higher and happier way of living to this other child, whose life changed so dramatically that he lived longer than he otherwise would have.
The flip side to all this is that examples of the opposite kind of behavior are also true. When someone cheats, steals, and lies their way through life, the people around them will think that such behavior is acceptable and imitate it, even if only as revenge for some wrong done to them. Even simple and childish selfishness can make other people more protective and cut themselves off from other people. I’ve seen people do this because they don’t wan’t others who could be selfish, liars, or what have you, to take advantage of them. The only thing that these attitudes will create in the world are people that are grumpy, closed off, and untrusting of everyone. And like the more positive side, even simple, small acts that are unkind can have significant effects on other people. An example of a likely hypothetical situation could be this; the small, selfish act of cutting someone off on the highway could blow up into full on road rage that might get people killed. And I am sure that people have had more experiences with similar situations.
What this all comes down to, in my mind, is that we all need to be more aware of the actions we take in our lives. If we take care to make our actions more generous and kind to those around us, especially family that we are often around, we can create an atmosphere of happiness that people enjoy being a part of. And anyone can do this. Even a grumpy, stubborn, and often rude child can show the kindness that he or she naturally has inside him to bring happiness to every person they come in contact with.