Case worker Jack Lambert is a bitter social worker with a dysfunctional marriage. But when he encounters a strange boy named Caleb, and begins to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding this boy, he'll learn to see things differently.
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Chapter 1:- Caleb
“I’m gonna die soon Mr. Lambert,” he said to me as I took off my coat. It caught me off guard hearing these words. There was no sadness in them, nor was there any fear in his young face. I’d prepared for the staples, “depressed and inconsolable,” and yet, at 17, this boy appeared to be completely at ease with his impending death.
I also wondered how he knew I was coming.
“How is it that you know my name Caleb?”
He smiled up at me. “Mrs. Betters said you were the only one left.”
It was true, I was the sixth social worker assigned to Caleb and the last in our office. Every one of the others had stayed on for just a little over a month and then quickly requested to be removed from the case, citing a need for personal time immediately afterwards. Laura had quit and went back home to Sacramento. I didn’t understand it seeing him now; he didn’t seem to be all that bad.
I took my chair and struck up a conversation.
“Okay then. So how are you today Caleb?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he was staring at a small patch of nothing in particular on the opposite side of the room. Whatever had his attention, it was causing was causing him to grin.
I tried to wake him. “Caleb?”
He awoke from his daze with a start.
“Sorry sir, sometimes I dream. Dream when I’m wide awake. Course, I don’t dream about riches or fame like most folk do, but that’s only because I aint never been well long enough to get around to those sorts of things. Nah, the only thing I see when my thoughts drift off is Aspen.”
“Aspen Eckhardt--met each other at the Center. She’s my sweetheart, my angel.”
“And when is the last time you saw Aspen?” I followed.
He frowned up a little and sighed. “It’s been about a year now.”
“You mean she doesn’t come by to see you?” I asked him, confused.
He frowned some more. “Nah, not since I came here. But she’s busy, she would if she could—“
He fell over sideways in his bed. “It hurts,” he moaned.
I stood up from my chair and ran out into the hall. “Help! Nurse!”
Two doctors and three nurses stormed the small hospital room. One of the nurses, a large black woman whose name tag read Betty Lassiter, RN, asked me to wait outside. After about ten minutes they came back out again.
“How’s he doin?” I asked the first of the doctors.
“He’s about as okay as he can be. He’s not in any pain right now.”
I nodded, and then made a move to go back inside. Nurse Lassiter put her hand up to stop me.
“Sir, Caleb has had a rough day, maybe you can come back tomorrow?” she asked.
“Oh, okay, no problem,” I conceded.
After the nurse had retrieved my things, she agreed to walk me to the exit.
“Have you been Caleb’s nurse long?” I asked her as we approached the elevators.
“Since he got here last November. Boy’s a saint, never gives anybody any trouble. Always says “yes mam” and “no mam.” You know that boy even sits with other patients on his good days?”
“Really? So he’s not troubled at all then?”
“Hmpf, If you ask any of these fancy pants doctors he is. Boy’s had his head checked out more times than ought to be allowed. Think it’s crazy a boy can be so close to death and still be upbeat and cheerful. Hell, I remembered when they told him—just nodded, smiled, and thanked them for tryin’.”
As we reached the main entrance to the hospital, I snuck in one more question.
“What do you think is going on with Caleb?”
She smiled then pulled a cross pendant from beneath her scrubs. “That boy’s been touched. Touched by somethin’ you aint gon’ find in no medical book or no psychology paper…if you know what I mean.”
I smiled and nodded politely. I knew what she meant. I believed in a higher power too--I couldn’t tell you whose religion was right, but I knew something was up there not giving a damn. That said, there had to be a reasonable explanation for Caleb’s behavior. There always was. All that was needed was a little research, starting with this Aspen Eckhardt.
I spotted a telephone booth on the corner as I walked the parking lot to my car and jogged over. I pulled out Caleb’s file and looked up the number.
“Hello, this is the Center for Abused, Neglected, and Abandoned Children. This is Jonathan speaking, how may we assist you today?”
“Hello, this is Jack Lambert, I’m with the State. I was wondering if I could have some information.”
“Okay Mr. Lambert, your state identification number please?”
“Okay, one moment…great. What is it you’d like to know Mr. Lambert?”
“Can you give me the current whereabouts of an Aspen Eckhardt?”
The man on the other end sighed.
“I don’t know what’s going on with you people, but there isn’t now, nor has there ever been an Aspen Eckhardt at this facility!”
He hung up in my face.
As I sat in my car, I stared at the picture in my file. He was a good looking kid, all things considered. He had long curly brown hair, with matching colored eyes. His features were all even, nothing too big or out of place. I flipped through some my colleague’s notes, and came across Laura’s personal notes. It had to have been an accident because personal notes are just that, they were never placed in an office case file.
September 17, 2008
Despite all evidence suggesting that Aspen is a figment of his imagination (Aspen was the city in which he was born), I have found that Caleb can describe in detail almost every single event that transpired during their supposed time together at the Center. Every attempt to trick him into admission has failed.
September 23, 2008
After finding out that Caleb visited with other patients regularly, I decided to interview a few of them to discover what sorts of thing they talked about. Most of the patients just say he provides them with much needed company. However, an elderly woman by the name of Eva Hickford said something that continues to baffle me. She told me that Caleb had promised that a young girl named Aspen would come to see her, and that she had somehow cured her pancreatic cancer. The doctors I spoke to called it “spontaneous remission,” though even they admitted the term was a code word for “miracle.”
September 31, 2008
A young girl stopped me outside of the hospital today. She was easily the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She asked me if I was going to see Caleb and when I answered yes she gave me a box of jellybeans. I asked her if her name was Aspen and she smiled, saying only that my mother needed me right now. My mother and I hadn’t spoken for years after she publically belittled my husband at our wedding. When I called she told me she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We talked for 7 hours. If you’re wondering why this is in the folder, know that it has been left on purpose. Caleb is something special.
Thanks to everyone who took part! Our judges said, "There were some really great entries for this one and the 'shortlist' totalled nearly two dozen, much clashing of heads was done to get this result!"