The Night Guardsman
The planes of life and death are many, with just as many planes of reality and imagination in between. Take for instance Mr. Goodman Howe, a kindly old man who has lost everyone in the world he loves, and yet he still goes on day to day. But, on the first day in a long time, something good will happen to Mr. Howe, only in- The Twilight Zone…
Sitting in his vehicle, the rusted out ol scrap that it was, more rust on the truck anymore than paint, Goodman looked at the near empty parking lot, only two other vehicles there besides his. One, the day guards, Ricks. The other, one he hadn’t noticed before. Must’ve been someone working late, he thought. Something that happened ever so rarely.
After the death of his wife a few years prior, Goodman found himself lonely, the isolation of sitting at home alone filling him with depression and grief. Needing to get out, he opened the papers one day, the papers being from days before, and yet still, he saw the ad, called the number, and got hired to fill the position, no problems. Night guardsman for an avionics production facility. A quiet job, and quiet was just what Goodman thought he needed. A quiet job, outside of his eerily, quiet home. But over time, he found that his little guard shack didn’t offer any sort of relief that he had been hoping for.
Finally climbing out from his rust bucket, the hands on his watch finally finishing their crawl to those two one’s standing side by side like two lonely men, the eleven o’ clock shift starting, another night of nick-at-night reruns and reading through the papers from days before.
Strolling up to the shack, Rick already outside waiting, much like he did most nights, his impatience overly visible in his body language. “Bout time Goodman,” the kid said. The kid, Goodman thought, like he could call him that. Rick was in his early thirties, and compared to Goodman’s early seventies, hell, he could call him a kid. Damn kid’s.
“It’s right on eleven,” looking to his watch, seeing it was eleven o’ two, Goodman damning himself, caught in a very minuscule lie, but a lie none-the-less, wondering how it had taken him two whole minutes to walk from the rust bucket to the shack. Was he getting that slow in what used to be a strong, meaningful stride?
“Alright,” Rick said, just playing it off, knowing it wasn’t worth getting irritated with the old man. “You have a good night now.” With nothing else, the man, or kid in Goodman’s eyes made his way to his car, in it, key turned, wheels quickly turning to leave the ugly truck and one other vehicle sitting alone in the parking lot.
Climbing into the shack, shutting the door behind him, taking his seat, realizing that he had grown tired of the job, with no one there at night, nothing happening, Goodman just reasoned that it was just best he stayed put, kept the job. It’ll just be the same anywhere else, he thought. Lonesome. Quiet.
Grabbing a newspaper off the shack’s little counter, the counter itself littered with candy bar wrappers, which Goodman supposed was Rick’s, the man looking to have never minded his weight, and a small t.v., the company nice enough to run a cable line out to them so they could zone out on the job with the trash that was on the boob tube, as Goodman’s son called it.
His son, Gary, had moved all the way over to the other side of the country, in California, where he designed video games, or something like that. Thinking about him, his graduation from high school, college, Goodman was proud of his son, but missed him dearly, having not seen him since Christmas. Of last year.
Wish he’d settle down, give me a grandchild. Goodman thought, hoping his thoughts would drown out the silence of the shack, not that it was completely silent, the humming from the light above him relaxing, once you got used it that is. After so long, the sound became torture, staying in your ears well after your shift has ended and you’re lying in bed trying to get to sleep. Back to his son and a grandchild, Goodman reasoned that even if Gary had a child, its grandfather would never see it. Gary had always been a momma’s boy.
The hours rolled by slowly, agonizingly slow. Unable to even fall asleep, even though that was a no-no on the job, something he had been warned about countless times the day he was hired, Goodman knew better than to expect anything to happen. Nothing ever did happen. Ever. Flipping off the light in the shack, the television not even on yet, Goodman not having reached that point of boredom to give in and watch reruns that he had seen countless times, he looked out the dirty window up to the sky and stars, wondering if Mary, his wife, was looking down on here, feeling sorry for her miserable, widowed husband. But he also wondered when he had missed his chance to do anything worth doing in his life.
Not that life hadn’t been good, but looking back on it, Goodman just couldn’t think of anything that had been worth his life, worth life itself. And it saddened him to think that his existence on Earth had been wasted. Deciding to change his mood and demeanor, depression something he had gotten used to but wasn’t in the mood for that night, he flicked the television on, turned it to nick-at-nite, and let the show’s he was only half-heartedly watch take the rest of the night away.
An hour passed by like that, when startled by a sudden knock at his door, Goodman about fell from his chair, was almost certain that he was going to have a heart attack, his old heart pounding in a way it hadn’t in a long, long time. Looking to see who had spooked him, a kid, and this time a young man, no more older than twenty three, stood, smiling, mouthing the word sorry through the door’s tiny window.
Motioning the kid in with a wave of his wrinkled hand, the door opened, the young man stepping in, apologetic. “I’m really sorry bout that,” he said. “Didn’t mean to give you a scare there.” Laughing, Goodman thought little about it, just glad to have someone to talk to for a minute.
“It’s nothing, needed it to keep me awake. Is there something I can do for ya? You the one working late in there?” Looking out to the car that hadn’t left yet, it was the logical thing to think.
“Yeah, that’s me,” the kid said, looking out to the car. “Ol thing ain’t starting up, was wondering if I could use your phone, can’t seem to find mine.” Goodman, not even seeing the kid walk out to his car and attempt to start it felt bad, the old man never owning a phone in his life, and the realization that his shack didn’t have one either. What good was a guard with no gun and no phone? He thought, they really must not expect anything to EVER happen out here.
“Sorry, but, no phone. Wish I could help. Got a key to get back in the building, they got phones in there.” Reaching for his keys, getting up to walk in, the kid wasn’t too worried about calling for a ride.
“Nah, don’t worry bout it sir, thanks anyways. I don’t live too far from here, and I can walk. Nice night out anyways.” Looking back behind him into the stars much like Goodman had been doing, a smile came across the kid’s lips that reminded the old man of better days, when he young, and thought he could own the world. Instead, the universe turned everything around on him, leaving him alone in a too-crowded world.
“It is ain’t it. Reminds me of when I was about your age. Owned a cherry red ’56 Chevy. White top, never had the thing on with nights like this to drive around. Love the feel of the wind making my way down these roads. Remember when this parking lot used to be nothing but fields, looked so nice in the moonlight.”
Goodman was in a very happy place thinking back to his days of his reckless youth, burning down the back country roads, back before they were asphalt and yellow paint, with Mary in the passenger seat, neither wearing a seat belt, the voice of Buddy Holly trying to beat out the roar of the engine and the howl of the young couple’s laughs. The best of times.
“Those must have been the days,” the kid said, still looking up into the sky. “Welp, I better get goin before the wife starts wonderin’. You have a g’night now sir,” the kid said, the sir surprising him, kids these days having no manners. Goodman just nodded, said a goodnight and a goodbye in response, his mind left wandering back to better days. His night would go by quick, the rest of his shift spent on back country roads with the wind blowing through his memory.
Two hours had grudgingly crawled by, leaving Goodman to wish he could return to working on his Chevy in his pa’s garage, or sitting with Mary the night of their first kiss, both nervous teens, just waiting for one to make a move. Mary made the first move, putting her hand on top of his on the hillside that looked over both their homes. They had lived close, their houses on the same street, their families went to the same church.
Seeing his rust bucket and the kid’s car being the only two in the parking lot again that night, he wondered if the kid’s car was still not running, left from the night before, or if the young lad was working late again, leaving the misses at home waiting.
Not in the mood to watch the television or read the paper that he had brought in with him, not that it was worth reading, the damn thing four days old, he instead walked out of the shack, stretching his old, tired legs, getting some fresh air. Stepping into the night, the air was a bit chilly, autumn creeping it’s way up on the closing summer, but autumn was Goodman’s favorite season. Most likely cause it had been Mary’s. She loved the colors of the leaves.
Very calm, taking deep breaths, taking in the stars, wishing he could just fly up there with them, around the planets, maybe take in the sight’s of Saturn’s rings, talk to the Man on the Moon, roast a marshmallow over the sun, Goodman jumped when he was surprisingly greeted from behind.
“Hey,” laughing, realizing he had yet again startled the night guardsman, the kid laughing, placed a reassuring hand on the old man’s shoulder, apologizing. “I’m sorry. Keep doing that too ya.”
“You’re gonna kill me one of these nights. Catch me just the right way and poof!, heart attack,” Goodman playfully grabbed his shirt over his heart, acting like his heart was giving out on his, going into full character with facial expressions and groans, getting a few more laughs from the kid. “Late night for ya again. Must love that overtime.” Finishing his laugh, the kid just nodded.
“Not really, but hey, could use the money. Takin’ in the night air?” he said, taking a deep breath himself, eye’s shut.
“Good night to do so. And those stars are just calling down to me. ‘Come play with us Goodman.’” Looking up at them, he knew Mary was up there.
“Goodman, eh. Well, I’m Matt.” Reaching out a hand for a shake, Goodman returned the gesture and was pleased by the strength in the kids, Matt’s, grip. A real man’s handshake Goodman thought. A gentleman’s.
“It’s nice to meet you Matt. You’re a good kid.” Goodman said it, instantly regretting calling Matt a kid, not sure if he would take offense too it or not. Kid’s these days, no respect and they take everything to heart. What happened to the youth of this over-crowded world?
“Same to you Goodman. Can I ask you something?” Goodman nodded. “You get bored in there, all by yourself at night? I mean, nothing ever happens round here. I mean, I say that like I know.”
“No, no, you’re right. Nothing exciting ever happens round here. They keep me here for my looks,” Goodman laughed, knowing his charm and good looks left him ages ago, replaced with wrinkles and worn out eyes. But back in the day, he was handsome. Could have been competition for James Dean, or Presley. And Mary, Mary had been so gorgeous. Could have a movie star, she could have. “Welp,” Goodman felt bad, holding the kid up with meaningless chit-chat. “Better get home to the misses now, don’t want to keep her waiting.”
“It’s okay. She’s prolly asleep anyways. I’ll stick around. You need the company anyways.” Goodman couldn’t argue with that. He wanted to tell the kid no, tell Matt to get on home and climb into bed with that girl, cuddle up with her and enjoy it while he had her. But it was only for one night.
“Not much to do round here at night. Got the little shack here,” Goodman said, slapping the door, like he was glad it was all his. “Got the television in there. That’s it. Not much for a young man like yourself. You really should be gettin’ goin.”
“Why don’t we sit out here and you tell me bout those days on these back streets, when these were fields in the moonlight.” Sitting down on the pavement, back against the wall, Goodman thought about and would be glad to tell a story, but he sure as hell wasn’t sitting on the ground. His old back wouldn’t last very long, and he’d never get back up. Grabbing his seat from inside, he made sure Matt wouldn’t be offended if he sat in it, the respectful young lad not caring one bit, just sitting cross legged like a young child waiting for a good story to be spun.
“Let me tell ya bout the time I was racing Charlie Everett…”
Life was good to Goodman. Going to work wasn’t so bad. Matt had stayed the whole night, heading home just before the sun came up, listening to the better days of an old man’s life, smiling the whole time. It was the best thing to happen to Goodman in a long, long time, and all the kid had done was listen, but, Goodman realized, Matt had done more than that. He let Goodman remember. Let the man go back to those days. Let him sit behind the wheel of his car. Racing down the back roads neck and neck with ol’ Charlie Everett in his Model T. Man, did Goodman smoke in at the end.
Walking up to the booth, Rick was outside waiting like he always was, although Goodman was fifteen minutes earlier than usual, a smile on his face, his whole demeanor just a little bit brighter.
“You look like a kid on Christmas morning,” Rick commented, wondering why the night guardsman was in such a good mood.
“I feel like it, that’s for sure.” Looking around the parking lot, he noticed for the first time since pulling in that Matt’s car was finally gone, not parked in the spot it had been for days. Maybe Matt had finally gotten it towed, or more than likely he had left early that day, not feeling like the overtime was worth staying late for. Goodman had to admit to himself, if the kid didn’t startle him that night, he would be a tiny bit disappointed, rather enjoying the young lad’s company.
“So, you hear about the accident? I swear they don’t tell us anything. I read it in the paper this morning,” Rick said, the excitement to tell his news almost sickening, Goodman knowing it couldn’t be any good.
“What happened?” Goodman asked, almost not wanting to hear.
“Kid died here a few days ago. Was working late, fell from a rafter while working on the tail of one of the birds,” birds being airplanes, “no one found him till yesterday morning. Company is trying to keep it secret. Can’t believe I didn’t hear bout it till I read bout it.”
“Kid. What kid?” Goodman asked, the part of him that questioned the unquestionable forming a name already, though the rational side of the old man’s brain told him it was impossible, but as Rick tried to remember, Goodman mouthed along with him just as the name came to him.
“Matt something or other. Young kid. Had a wife with a baby on the way.” Goodman couldn’t believe it. It had to be another Matt. Not his Matthew. It just wasn’t possible.
“Was there a picture of the kid?” the night guardsman asked, knowing a picture would prove the crazy assumptions going through his mind wrong, that he would be put to ease knowing his Matthew was home with his misses, doing what young couple’s do nowadays.
“Sure wasn’t. Damn shame though. Well, I need to get going. Have a good one Goodman.” And like that, Rick was gone, leaving an old man alone to wonder in a tiny shack.
An hour passed by when Goodman finally decided he couldn’t sit no more, staring out into the parking lot where a kid, no, a young man’s car had been parked the day before. Stretching his legs, hands in his pockets, he didn’t want to think about Chevy’s, or Charlie Everett, or the good ol’ days. He just wasn’t in the mood to think about those days, long and past.
Looking up at the stars, then to the moon, wondering what the Man up there was thinking about, Goodman was startled, nearing jumping off the ground by a “hello” from behind. He knew the voice, and knew that he hadn’t heard anyone walking up behind him. He also knew no one had been in the building working. No one. Turning to see Matt, the boy smiling.
“Sorry bout that. Bad habit I guess,” Matt said, looking at the sad old man before him. “You okay Goodman?”
“Are you bub?” Goodman asked the kid, only ever calling his son that.
“I’m fine. I mean, I feel a little weird, but I’m prolly coming down with something. Everyone is this time of the year.” Looking up from Goodman to the stars, his smiled turned into a small grin, an innocence present, a longing to be somewhere that he couldn’t get too. Goodman knew the kid didn’t belong there with him, was meant to be someplace else, with Mary. But he couldn’t bring himself to say anything about it. If Matt was supposed to be with Mary, wherever Mary was, the stars, heaven, wherever, he would go when he was well and ready too.
“So, want to hear about the time I got caught sneakin’ into a lasses room?” Goodman asked, the kid sitting down, cross legged, smiling and nodding. Grabbing his chair, Goodman was content. Maybe, just maybe, that was where Matt was supposed to be…
An old man left alone in an over-crowded world. A young man robbed of his youth in an accident, only to visit with a lonely man and hear about days long ago. There are many places we are destined to be in our lives, and in the times after our light has been extinguished. And sometimes the most important place we can be is there for someone who needs us. That is no more truer than in…. The Twilight Zone