Chapter 10


Ben woke up the second morning in a row aching from his twisted position in the padded chair. There had to be a
better way. He slowly unwound his twisted body, wondering if Isaiah might have stocked any antiseptics and aspirin.
He didn't find any.

He ate some dry, stale cereal and choked it down with water. Then he ate another of the candy bars his mom had
packed for him.

Ben decided he should visit the store Isaiah had mentioned in his note. He could not guess how far it might be, so he
started early. He stuffed some cash into his pocket, as much as he thought he might need, and threw his backpack
over his shoulder. The rest of the cash he stuffed in a joint high up the corner where the roof meets the wall. It was a
safe hiding place.

He started his journey northward. On the way up the river he picked some berries and munched on them. They were
definitely tastier than the dry cereal and more nutritious than the candy bar. He ate until he could eat no more and
resumed his walk. He had never really taken the time appreciate the natural sweetness of berries, or any other fruit
for that matter. Fast foods had become pretty much his normal diet - low on taste, low on nutrition, high on calories
and cost. It was the modern American way. Maybe it was just his hunger, but he was thinking at the moment that these
berries just might be sweeter than chocolate.

At one point he noticed a snake on the other side of a bush he was eating from. The creature paid no attention to
Ben. Ben was cautiously watching, partly out of fear, no ... respect, that was better word ... out of respect for the
creature, and partly because he was learning how other forms of life survive. The snake seemed very meticulous
about how it was to be done. It seemed to be almost selective about which berries to eat - like Ben's mother inspecting
produce items at the grocery store.

Ben walked for three hours, occasionally thinking that he may have gotten lost again. This was a longer journey than
he had anticipated. Then, when he had just about decided that Isaiah had sent him on a wild goose chase, he spotted
the boat dock in the distance. There was a buzz of activity as a number of boaters were vying for a spot to launch into
the river water.

Ben skirted around the parking area to avoid being noticed. He got out to the highway and spied the store nearby. It
was close enough to the entrance of the parking lot to be convenient for fishermen who might need last minute items,
bait, or fishing licenses.

He made his way to the store and stalled outside for a few minutes while he worked up his nerve to go in and
introduce himself to the owners. He took a deep breath of courage and walked in, scanning the store as he entered.
The little store was rustic, not extremely clean, and peppered with every imaginable item that boaters, fishermen, and
locals might need in a pinch. There were chips and candy racks, shelves lined with canned goods, crackers, cookies,
and coffee. Packs of nuts, trail mix, sunflower seeds, and corn nuts hung from a pegboard rack.
Down another aisle were motor oil, transmission fluid, 2-cylinder oil, and assorted boating needs, tackle boxes, hooks,
sinkers, floats, and fishing line. In the same aisle were cleaning products and a few tools and hardware items. Another
aisle contained paper products, soft drinks, toiletries, and medicinal items.

Along the back wall were refrigerator and freezer items - milk, butter, yogurt, cold soft drinks, ice cream, and assorted
frozen foods. A sign taped on the refrigerator door read: "We don't sell beer. Alcohol doesn't mix well with boating."
The rest of the store area was sprinkled with odd items. There was a section for garden tools and gloves. From the
ceiling hung buckets, fishing poles, rods and reels, fishing nets, and bait containers of all sorts.
Near the front door was a mesh cage full of crickets and two large plastic bins filled with rich dirt crawling with
earthworms. On the other side of the door was a cooler containing prepared sandwiches. A table stood beside it with
a microwave oven, napkins, condiments, and a coffee pot.  Above the coffee pot hung a sign which read, "Decaf? Are
you kidding?"

At the counter were candy bars, gums, breath mints, antacids, snack packs of crackers of many varieties and a
magazine rack. Behind the counter were cigarettes and lighters, snuff, chewing tobacco, cameras, flashlights and

Also behind the counter was a chubby man with a friendly smile. He looked to be in his late thirties or early forties. Off
to the side sat an older man with gray hair, maybe in his late sixties. He was seated in and old wooden rocking chair,
and he was rocking a mile a minute and patting his leg. If there was music, it must have been inside his head,
because he wasn't wearing headphones or earpods.

When the other customers left, the younger man approached Ben. He extended his hand and introduced himself, "Hi.
I'm Frank. You must be Ben."

"Uh, yeah," Ben stuttered, taken by surprise. "How'd you know that?"

"Isaiah told us to watch for you. He described you, and when you kinda stood back I figured out who you were."
"But ... I mean ... how could you tell it was me?"

Frank blushed. "Well ... umm ... Isaiah said ... umm."

Ben smiled. He knew what was coming. "Go ahead. Say it," he said with a grin.

"He said you had big ears." Frank blushed even more.

The older man glanced up briefly and said, "He does have big ears." He smiled and rocked back in his chair.
"Well, I guess there's no hiding them. If that was all I was ever known for, I'd be thankful," Ben replied.
Frank gave him a knowing smile. He pointed to the man in the rocking chair. "That's my daddy, Otis."
Otis grinned and waved his hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ben. Isaiah was a good friend. He told us
you'd be staying at his place." He sat there shaking his head. "He was a fine man," he repeated.
"Yeah," Ben answered. Nobody said anything about what had happened. Ben was glad.

"Hey," Frank noticed the makeshift bandage, "what happened to your hand?"

"Oh, I just had a little accident," Ben shrugged.

"Looks like you had a big accident. That hand looks pretty chewed up. Let me see it," Frank insisted.

Ben unwrapped the tape and pulled the cloth free. The blood had dried and the cloth stuck to the wound. Pulling it
free started a fresh gush of blood as the gash reopened.

"Oh, man," Frank exclaimed as he winced. "That's a bad cut. And what are these wounds?"He pointed to little red
holes in Ben's palm.

"Fish fins." Ben said.

"And these?" pointing to the cuts on the fingers of his other hand.

"Tin can."

"Man, you've had quite a time," Frank exclaimed.

"Yeah," Ben agreed. "I need to buy some peroxide and some kind of antibiotic cream."

"Ya' think?" Frank said. "My friend, you need more than that. Sit down in that rocker next to daddy. I'm calling my wife.
She's a nurse."

"No! That's alright," Ben resisted. "I'm okay! It'll be fine. I don't want to be any trouble. You don't need to ..."
"Sit down there," ordered Frank. "We promised Isaiah we'd take care of you. Kate is right next door. She'll be right

"No, really ..."

"Sit!" Frank said sternly. He picked up the phone and pressed a speed dial button. "Kate, I need you to come over to
the store pronto. And bring your doctoring bag. Isaiah's friend is here, and he's injured himself. Yeah!  Nothing life
threatening, but he probably needs stitches. Hmmm!  Okay! Thanks, babe."

"She said to bring you to the house. Can you believe that? She says it's probably more sanitary over there," he said
with a chuckle. "I seriously doubt that there are any more germs in here than there are in that cabin of yours ... or on
that rag for that matter." Then looking to his father, he asked, "Daddy, would you take this patient over to the house?"
"Sure," the older man said. "Come on, Ben."

"First," Frank said, "why don't you give me a list of what you need? I'll get it ready before you get back."
Ben enumerated a few things he would need, keeping in mind that he only had so much room in his backpack and
could only endure so much weight for the long trip back. Then Otis led him out the back door and toward the house.
As they walked, Otis continued to shake his head and looked at the ground. He kept saying, "Isaiah was a good man
... a real good man ... Uh huh!" Then, still looking down at the ground, he asked, "Are you a good man, Ben?"
Ben answered in a defeated tone, "No! Not really."

"Well," Otis said, "It don't matter much. God is used to working with scraps." Then he quickly added, "No offense

"Hmmm ... It's okay!" Ben said.  "But that's an interesting way to put it ... scraps? Yeah, I guess that's me. Scraps."

"Hey, I didn't mean ..."

"No, really, it's okay. I've made such a mess of things. Scraps is probably a nice way to put it."

The back door swung open as Ben and Otis approached. A moderately heavy lady with the sweetest smile he had
ever seen greeted them. "Hi, Ben. I'm Kathryn Jenkins, but everybody calls me Kate. I hope these boys are treating
you okay." She winked at her father-in-law Otis. "Has this cranky old buzzard been minding his manners?"
"Well," Ben said, "He's been honest."

"Yeah, probably a little too honest. Don't pay any attention to him. He's a little, you know," she joked while making a
circle with her finger next to her head.

Otis chuckled and said, "Don't listen to this nag. I'm the best daddy-in-law she ever had."

"You're the only daddy-in-law I ever had, thank God! But I guess you'll do." She kissed Otis on the cheek and looked
at Ben. "You see what I have to put up with? And his son is twice as bad as him."

Otis laughed, "Ah! Everybody should have it so good. Two for the price of one."

"You old coot." She slapped him on the shoulder. "Get out of the way and let me take care of this boy. My! My! Ben.
What have you done to your hand? Let me clean that up and get a better look."

Ben described his dinner-time fiasco to Kate and Otis while she cleaned out the wound. Both suppressed laughter as
he detailed his comedy of errors.

Once she got it clean she told Ben, "I'm going to have to stitch this up. Can you stand the pain?"

"Yeah, I think so. It's feeling pretty numb at this point," Ben answered bravely.

Kate applied some local anesthetic and started stitching. "We really should be doing this at the emergency room with
a doctor, but you probably don't need all that attention right now."

"Yeah, you're right. I'm staying out of sight indefinitely. Thanks for your help ... and for understanding," Ben said.
"Ben, Isaiah was a long-time friend of this family. People were hard on him, but he endured it. He told us all about
what happened to you, and he had some special feeling about you. He asked us to give you a chance and to help
you. My first impression of you is that Isaiah was right. We are here for you. I think I speak for all of us." She looked
over at Otis, and he nodded in agreement.

Kate put a fresh bandage on his hand and sent him back to the store. Otis walked him over. Frank had packed all of
Ben's purchases in his backpack, including peroxide, medicated ointment, gauze, and aspirin.

Ben said, “I’m also going to need some kerosene for my lantern and some gasoline for my stove."

"You mean that old campstove of Isaiah's?" Frank asked. "Kerosene will work in it as well. And it's safer. That way you
won't need two containers." He got Ben a five gallon container of kerosene.

"Otis said, "By the time you carry that can of kerosene all the way home, your arm will be so stretched out your
knuckles will be dragging the ground."

"Yeah," Ben responded. "Then I won't have to bend over to take my socks off."

Otis doubled over laughing and slapped his knee. "I think I'm gonna like this boy," he said between guffaws. "Ben," he
added, "before you go, I've got a fish in a bucket out back that needs cleaning. Let me show you how it's done before
you injure yourself really bad."

For the next fifteen minutes they had a lesson in fish cleaning. Ben couldn't actually do any 'hands-on' practice
because of his bandage, but he got the basics. He thanked Otis for his concern and for his time.

As Ben was preparing to leave, Frank invited him to visit their church on Sunday. "They are real nice folks," he said.
"And, Ben, they don't care who you are or what you've done. They are a unique group of believers. They will love you
unconditionally. Isaiah was a frequent visitor, and he became a part of our church family. The church is just a few
doors from our house."

Ben started to bow out. "Well, thanks for the invitation, but I don't ..."

"Don't tell me you don't have church clothes. That doesn't matter to us. Give us a try," Frank said.

What Ben was going to say was that he didn't believe in God, but he let it go.

"Okay, thanks." he replied. "I'll think about it. Oh, by the way, do you sell any kind of snake repellent?"

"Snake repellent?" Otis asked.

Ben told them about the snake in his bed and how he had been sleeping on the chair.

Frank thought for a minute and then said, "Okay, here's what you do." He went over to a shelf and picked up a box of
corn starch. "Just sprinkle this in a line across the front door threshold.  Snakes won't crawl across it."

Otis gave Frank a questioning look.

As they watched Ben walk away, Frank looked at his daddy and said, "That boy's gonna need a lot more help than
Isaiah led us to believe."

Otis said, "Yep!" Then he added, "Oh Frank, what was that nonsense about the corn starch? That won't keep snakes
out of his cabin."

"Nope," Frank said, still staring at Ben's disappearing figure. "But it'll give him a few good nights’ sleep until he finds
out." He slowly turned to face his father, and both men broke into uproarious laughter.