Written by: Joseph D. Stirling
It was a quiet sunny afternoon, late summer in Montana. True to it’s name there was big sky overhead, blue and spotted with fluffy white clouds. The open rolling hills spread nearly as far as the sky in all directions from the wrapped porch around the farmhouse. The three children sat on the steps looking back over their shoulders at the old man, his bald scalp bore twice the spots as clouds overhead. The old man was ancient. Joe Baber was his name, and the kids- Jennie, Alexander, and Matthew- were his great grandchildren. Perhaps great, great grandchildren. Surely Joe Baber didn’t know anymore, and the kids only knew what their parents had told them. True enough every child and parent in the small farm town called Joe Baber grandpa or grandfather, for he was old enough to be so, for all of them. Even the other elderly folks in town called him the same, for he was even more archaic than they too.
He rocked slowly in his chair, a soft creak of wood on the deck boards. He sipped iced tea, condensation beading and rolling from the smooth glass. The children stared at him expectantly, wonder shining in their eyes.
“What happened next, Grandpa?” Jennie was the most inquisitive, more brave than the others.
“That depends dear child,” said Joe Baber. “It depends on where I was last in our story.”
“You had just told us how you helped to build the Empire, to make Rome a Republic.” Even as Jennie said it, she knew from school that Grandpa Joe couldn’t have been there.
“Ah yes. Rome was to be a Republic then it’s true! A Republic for the people. For if not, the dream would surely fail, like a whisper in a strong wind. A drop of water in a pond. Gone forever…”
He fixed his watery eyes on the children with a wry smile, “You see, we had grown tired of the murderous tyrant King, Tarquinius Superbus born of Etruscan blood. Then I was known as Lucius Junius Brutus, ancestor to one of Ceasar’s famed assassins. We became elected administrators in the Senate. Those were good days that followed. Of course I could not sit there forever. No the me that was Lucius had to perish though not one man ever saw my body. It had to be staged and played out so that I could leave and continue my life.”
“You’re siwwy Gwandpa,” laughed Matthew, the youngest of the three children.
“Yeah, there’s no way you can be that old!” Alexander giggled. “You would have to be like, uh, like a million!”
“Perhaps,” said Joe Baber slyly through the corner of his mouth as he tipped his glass to his lips. “Perhaps I am. If so, it is all because of my scorpion. Have I told you of my Jade Scorpion? I found it in ancient China, and the everlasting life it granted me was partly the reason why the Great Wall was built! You see Children, from the time I came to keep the scorpion- and in truth it keeps me- I had gained renown as a warrior who knew no defeat. I was impervious to sword and arrow! And it came to be that I became the ruler of the Xiongnu people from Mongolia. And we had our sights set on the riches of China and her Emperors and Lords!”
“But Grandpa, the Mongolians were a nomadic Asian people! My World History book in school says it’s true!” Jennie stood to prove her point, “You’re as white as all of us, you can’t be the Roman founder of the Republic and the leader of the Mongols! It’s impossible Grandpa!”
“Impossibility is my life child! You can’t live as long as I have and not be full of the impossible. How else could you explain my accident that caused the Dark Ages?”
“You don’t know anything Grandpa. They’re just stories, you made it all up,” said Jennie. “And they’re not even very good. I’m going swimming, let’s go guys.”
Jennie turned and left, followed quickly by Alexander. Only Matthew remained, watching Grandpa intently.
“Ah, young Matthew. I knew you would be the one.”
Joe Baber pulled a tarnished silver chain from beneath the collar of his flannel shirt, suspended from the end was a small jade scorpion. The detail was incredible, as if it moved on its own. Matthew inhaled sharply.
“This is the source of all my legend young man. The proof of my tale! Because of this small and final bit of the magic from the old world I am survived so long. I have known time before time existed! I showed the stars how to burn and twinkle, I taught planets how to spin and dance! Young Matthew, could you believe I even led the fish of the oceans to take their first steps on land!”
Matthew vigorously nodded, he did believe those things. He knew them to be true, each and every one. As he stared into the glittering sun streaked jade pendant he could see all of it, every last tale, it was as if he had been there living it too.
“Oh, Matthew. I am so old now. The days so long. It is time for another to carry the ages with them, and leave this old man to rest. The things you’ll see Mathew, the wonders you’ll learn. The stories you’ll tell. But you must keep it safe. Can you keep it safe Matthew?”
Matthew could only nod, mouth hanging open.
“Put it on then. The legend passes to you now. Every life it has lived will now be your life, your history. It will be your burden. Put it on Matthew, save me from the eons, I beg you.”
Matthew reached out a tentative hand and took hold of the chain.