Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The best of both worlds

Shiloh, Gunner's younger brother, was blind from birth. They were about a year and a half apart. When they were still little kids, Gunner enjoyed his brother's constant company. That was the only brother he had. He never knew what it was like to have a sighted brother. So for him, that was natural and normal. And Shiloh adored his older brother. 

But when Gunner came of age, he began to itch for independence. There were things he couldn't do with other boys his own age because he couldn't take Shiloh along. Simple things like hiking with the guys. He developed a festering resentment for Shiloh. Increasingly, he felt like Shiloh was a ball-in-chain, holding him back. He could leave Shiloh behind, but that was mean. He began to hate Shiloh's dependence on him. He began to hate Shiloh. Gunner was missing out on life. You only get to be a teenager once. 

He knew it was wrong to feel that way. If it was frustrating for him to have a blind brother, imagine how frustrating it was to be the blind brother! 

Shiloh sensed the growing estrangement. Gunner was tempted to tell Shiloh what he was feeling, but something restrained him. He knew that if he said what he thought, it would be irreparably hurtful to his loving, innocent brother. 

One time Gunner was temporarily bedridden by a sports accident. Ironically, it was Shiloh who cared for him. But that just intensified Gunner's inner dilemma. He resented the fact that he shouldn't resent his brother. 

One day, Gunner found a time-machine in the woods. He had no idea how it got there. But that gave him an idea. If he could go back in time, he could preempt Shiloh's conception. Of course, he didn't know on which night Shiloh was conceived, but he had a rough idea of the range. If he traveled back into the past enough times, he could disrupt parental activities and soon or later hit upon the crucial evening. 

And that's what he did. When he returned to his own time after several tries, then went into his bedroom, Shiloh was gone. Shiloh's stuff was gone. The clothes, the posters, the pictures of Shiloh and Gunner together. There was no trace of Shiloh's existence because he never existed in that timeline. 

At first it was a relief, but there was a yawning emptiness. A huge hole at the center of his life. 

What he really wanted was a brother who could see. So he went back to the time machine. When he returned to his own time, after several more tries, he was greeted by a…sister! But what's not what he wanted. He wouldn't mind having a sister. But he didn't want a sister instead of a brother. 

It turned out that his mother suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome. She barely fertile. It was hard for her to conceive at all. Shiloh and Gunner were the only boys she had on tap. 

At this point, Gunner hated himself for hating Shiloh. He felt like he committed fratricide with the time machine. 

So he went back into the time machine and restored the status quo ante. Reset things to the day before he discovered the time machine. After that he torched the time machine. 

A few weeks later, Shiloh was hit by a car–because he couldn't see the car. Standing over him in the ER, stroking his hair and holding his hand, as Shiloh hovered between life and death, Gunner realized that he didn't want Shiloh to die. His brother flatlined several times but they were able to resuscitate him and stabilize him. It was bad enough to scrub his brother from the timeline using the machine, yet that was detached. He didn't see the target. But watching his brother die, repeatedly die in the ER, tugged at Gunner's heart. And all the good memories came flooding back. All the good times together he'd forgotten about. In his seething resentment, he'd been far blinder than his brother. 

After Shiloh came home from the hospital, he sensed a change in Gunner's attitude. And Gunner found new things for them to do together. 

They lived in the same town for the rest of their lives. Gunner outlived Shiloh. When Gunner died, Shiloh was waiting for him. In the world to come, they were young again, only this time Shiloh could see! 

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Icarus was an exceptionally hospitable planet for humanoid habitation. According to pious legend, the original inhabitants were colonists transported to Icarus inside giant birds flying through space, by the Creator of Icarus. The same legend prophesied that one day the Creator of Icarus would come back for the colonists. 

But with the development of planetology, scientists scoffed at the legend. Planetology was the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. Scientists dismissed the legend as a superstitious, prescientific etiological fable. 

That divided Icarians into two factions: scientists and fundamentalists. But as planetologists continued to excavate Icarus, they uncovered evidence that Icarus was an artificial planet, only a few thousand years old, composed of metallic alloys. 

Fundamentalists took their discovery as scientific confirmation that the legend was true. But scientists retorted that positing a Creator was a cop-out and science stopper. Appealing to external agency explains something mysterious by something even more mysterious–which explains nothing at all. We cannot allow an Alien Foot in the door. Anyone who could believe in terraformers could believe in anything. To appeal to a terraformer is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen, through outside interference. 

Scientists accused fundamentalists of committing the little-green-men-of-the-gaps fallacy. They pointed out that planetology had an impressive track record of explaining things without recourse to invisible, extraicarian meddling.  

So there was yet another impasse between the scientists and fundamentalists. Then one day a giant bird from outer space landed on Icarus, and out stepped the Creator. Fundamentalists immediately took this as vindication of the ancient oracle. 

Scientists couldn't believe their eyes. Some of them said it must be staged. Others said a hallucination was more plausible than accepting the existence of a Creator. The Creator ushered the fundamentalists into the giant bird and flew away, leaving the scientists behind. A month later the climate-control machine in the planetary core wore out, and life on Icarus perished in a mass extinction event. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Through two doors at once

Life is a series of invisible doors. Sets of two doors. Most folks go through one door at a time, whether the right-hand door or the left-hand door. But for some unexplained reason, Jasper went through both doors at once. He came out the other side as two copies of Jasper. But for some unexplained reason, he kept returning to the same spot. Each time, passing through both doors at once, his life split into forking paths. 

He went thorough the door where his parents divorced, and the other door where they stayed together. He went through another set of doors where his mother had custody and his father has custody. He turned out fairly well living with his dad. He turned out better living with both parents. He became a delinquent living with his mother. 

There was the door where his brother committed suicide and the door where his brother didn't commit suicide. Going through the door where his brother committed suicide, Jasper's life went into a tailspin. He became junkie. He eventually killed himself because he was unable to cope with the inconsolable loss. Grief enveloped him in a dark cloud from which he never emerged.  

There was the door where he where he accidentally ran over a cyclist at night and the door where he avoided the cyclist. After accidentally killing the cyclist, he was afraid to turn himself into the police. The fatality remained an unsolved crime, but he haunted by guilt for the rest of his life. 

There was the door where he was blinded in a baseball accident. Knocked unconscious when a teammate accidentally hit him in the head with a baseball bat. When he woke up in a hospital bed, he was blind. That one blow to the head not only shattered his skull, but shattered his plans. At first he was despondent and bitter. After months of brooding, he began to rebuild his life, step-by-step. Not the life he asked for. Not the life he hoped for. But after that he no longer took life for granted. The ambit of his life got smaller but deeper. And he hoped to see again in the world to come. 

There was the door where he won a football scholarship and the door where he was edged out. Losing the scholarship scuttled his dreams. All his hopes were pinned on getting the scholarship. After that he had to dream new dreams.  

There was the door where a rival married his high school crush. So h married another girl. He secretly felt she was second-best. But his rival told him that his crush was a nagging wife. So he no longer regretted losing her to another man. He warmed to his wife and had a happy marriage. His bad luck was good luck in retrospect. 

The was the door where he was drafted and the door where he was not. Before he was drafted, evil was an abstraction for him. Watching his comrades maimed or blown up right before his eyes gave him nightmares. But it also made him hope for a better world to come. 

Finally, there was the door where he became an atheist and the door where he became a Christian. For some unexplained reason, after he went through one door and came out the other side a Christian, that broke the cycle. Never again did he go through two doors at once. He just continued along that branch until he died and went to heaven.  

Friday, October 11, 2019

Room with a view

Dexter Horton IV was a self-made man, and he never let you forget it. The sun at the center of his solar system, around whom the satellites revolved. Starting a business from the bottom up, five wives and two estranged sons later, he was the CEO of Fortune 500 company. While many CEOs had limousines, Dexter drove to work in his Bugatti Veyron. Truth be told, there never was a Dexter Horton I, II, or III. He tacked IV onto the end of his name because it sounded more impressive.

Dexter demanded perfection from his underlings. The turnover rate was high. The one person he was close to was Eileen, his secretary of 27 years. She was his first employee. 

At least, everyone, included herself, always thought she was the one person he cared about. That's before she was injured in a traffic accident. He never visited her in the convalescent home. After rehab, she showed up for work, only to find out that he replaced her without notification. 

He bought his two sons, by different wives, into Harvard Business School. He didn't consult them. They balked. They had no interest in following in his footsteps. He cut them out of the will and broke off further communication. For them it hardly made any appreciable difference in their lives, since he was more like a sperm donor than a father. 

Dexter was riding high until one day, at a board meeting, he suffered a stroke. It wasn't a massive stroke, but he was hospitalized, and underwent physical therapy. At first he had to use a walker around the convalescent home. 

He ran the company from his hospital bed. Summoned his entourage, holding court in the convalescent center, barking orders, berating subordinates. He was in his element. 

But one day the retinue never appeared. The king was vexed. Turns out the board quietly relieved him of the chairmanship and pensioned him off, citing a termination clause for incapacity. Dexter was in high dudgeon and threatened a lawsuit, but it was all perfectly legal. 

With the courtiers gone, Dexter was alone all day, every day. He phoned his wives and sons, not having spoken to them for years. One son paid a visit. This was the last chance to be reconciled. For the first few minutes they had a formally pleasant exchange, but Dexter began to complain about how negligent his son was. Never sent him a birthday card or Christmas card. As the conversation degenerated, Dexter called his son a "loser" for refusing to go to Harvard Business School. After the chewing out, his son never came back. That was the first time and last time a family member went to see him. Now Dexter was more alone than ever. For the first time, after his son stormed out of the room, Dexter cried. 

When a chaplain tried to talk to him, Dexter cursed him out. Organized religion was a crutch for the weak. He didn't need God. He didn't need anyone! He was a self-made man! 

Dexter had a roommate whose bed was by the window. Dexter seethed about the fact that his roommate had a view while Dexter was one bed over, away from the view. He hoped his roommate would die soon. The sooner the better. That was the one thing he was tempted to pray about. Had he been a praying man, that's what he'd prayer for–his roommate's swift demise, so that Dexter could have the bed by the window. 

One night his roommate began groaning in pain. Dexter struggled to get out of bed on his own, staggered over to his roommate's bed, and yanked the remote out of reach so that his roommate couldn't use the panic button. 

But he stumbled and fell as he pivoted to go back to his own bed. Due to the injury, Dexter was confined to a wheelchair. 

Next morning, after his dead roommate was taken away, they moved Dexter to the bed by the window. But when he finally had a chance to look out the window, it was facing a concrete wall. That was the view. 

He tried to order the nurses around, making lewd comments about their appearance and groping them when they came within reach. As a result, they stopped responding when he needed someone to walk him to the bathroom. He wet himself and soiled himself while they ignored him. He felt like a missing person. After a while, people stop looking for you. They adjust to the absence. You're gone, but life goes on. 

One night he was seized by wracking chest pain. He pumped the panic button, but no one came. He died clutching the panic button. When they discovered him in the morning, it was curled in the grip of his rigid fist. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Separated at parallel birth

Peyton attended church all his life. At first he went with his parents. He'd been going to church for as long as he could remember. 

He heard many sermons about heaven and the world to come. Some preachers said it was a city made of gold and gemstones, with a big choir. Others said it was like a tropical island. He once tried reading Dante's Paradiso, but couldn't make heads or tails of the imagery. 

Although Peyton enjoyed scenic parks and sunny beaches, a fllashy paradise wasn't what he had his heart set on. All his life he wanted to have a brother. As a young boy he wanted a brother. He pestered his parents, but for whatever reason, they never gave him a brother. He grew up and they grew old. It was too late. 

He envied other boys who had brothers. All the same, he saw that some brothers hated each other or took each other for granted. If he had a brother, he'd make the most of it, but he never got the chance. That was a hole in his life. There's not a lot he wanted. Not something big or showily, but something small and ordinary. He was easy to please. 

When preachers rhapsodized about heaven, he found it disappointing. Maybe that was their idea of heaven–and that was fine for them–but it left him on the outs. 

The moment after he died, he found himself standing in his boyhood bedroom. He was young again. He went into the living room, then went outside. Everything looked just the same–only it was like walking through a mirror. Everything was the same but in reverse–kinda. It was hard to put his finger on the difference. But it still had the woods and creeks, ravines and meadows he used to roam as a boy. Where he used to pray and sing to himself. 

Because he didn't have a real brother, he had an imaginary brother. He called him Chase. He used to talk to Chase as if he was really there. He took him along when he went hiking on the trails. A pretend brother made him feel both less lonely and more lonely. 

But this much was real. He died. He was rejuvenated. It was bracing just to be young again. He'd forgotten what that felt like. The spring in the step. The crisp vision at a distance. The sharp hearing. In fact, there was something extra. Better than before. More vigorous.  

As he rounded a bend in the trail, he saw another boy in the distance about his age. As they came towards each other, there was a look of mutual astonishment. It as Chase! The brother he always wanted but never had. 

He couldn't believe his eyes! He didn't dare believe it was true. It took days for the reality to sink in. This wasn't a dream. No, this was for keeps. 

As it turned out, he was in a parallel world. In this world, Chase was the only brother, and Peyton was the brother Chase always wanted but never had. God made them apart to reunite them in the world to come. Now they had a chance to do all the brotherly stuff they always longed to do but never had a chance to do in their former lives. Peyton was satisfied. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Journey out of Hell


Erik, Derek, and Kyle were college students and roommates. All three were preacher's kids who lost their faith the first year of college. There they discovered each other and moved into the same dorm room. Kyle and Erik were hedonistic atheists. They spouted atheist tropes, catchy quips, and witty one-liners. Theirs was a chic, hipster brand of atheism. 

But Derek was different. Derek was hardcore. He needed something stronger than atheism. He graduated to nihilism, but that wasn't enough. He hated everything Christianity stood for. He found that he needed something stronger than nihilism. He needed a cause. So he graduated from nihilism to Satanism and witchcraft. Unlike atheists, he didn't want God not to exist. To the contrary, he wanted God to exist. If God existed, that meant Satan existed, and Derek wanted to be on the enemy side. Kyle and Erik could never figure out the source of his pathological antipathy to the faith. 

Derek had a miniature Baphomet in their dorm room. Kyle and Erik couldn't bring themselves to take it seriously. They hung underwear and jockstraps on the Baphomet, which enraged Derek. He organized a Black Mass and invited them to attend. For them it was too extreme. Things were getting out of hand. 

Derek began casting spells. At first, Kyle and Erik thought it was a lark…until bad things happened to teachers and students Derek hexed. That's when it got scary. They wanted to break off their friendship with Derek and kick him out of their dorm room but by then they were afraid of him. He was dangerous to be with, but more dangerous to snub. 


Erik woke up late on Saturday, after a wild party the night before. Kyle and Derek were still asleep. He went over to the window and peered through the blinds. That was strange. It ought to be broad daylight but it looked like twilight. He rechecked the time on his cellphone, then double-checked the time on Kyle and Derek's cellphones. Something was really off. 

He woke them up. They dressed, went outside. The campus was deserted. They consulted their cellphones for news, but the Internet was dead. 

Erik went back into the dorm and knocked on doors. No one answered so he began to open doors, but all the rooms were vacant. Erik then went back to their room to fetch his jacket when he saw a backpack in the corner. He didn't remember seeing it there before. He unzipped it and looked inside. It contained silver crosses, Aaron's rod, and the armor of salvation: a sword, shield, belt, helmet, and winged sandals. He remembered that from the book of Ephesians. 

So he took the backpack. They piled into Kyle's car and got onto the freeway. But the freeway was deserted. At this point Erik figured he must be dreaming. This was a lucid dream. It couldn't be real. Problem is, even if it was a dream, it was indistinguishable from reality. Erik never had a dream before that felt this real. It was uncanny and unnerving. 

They kept driving until sinkholes began to open up in front of them. It was too hazardous to keep driving so they got out of the car and headed for a strip mall. On the way, Kyle fell into a sinkhole. It was like fifty feet deep. Erik pulled the belt out of the backpack. It was ridiculously short for the purpose, but when he lowered it to Kyle, the belt miraculously elongated. Erik and Derek then pulled Kyle out of the sinkhole. 

At the strip mall they found an elevator. They went inside and pushed the button for the next floor.


They stepped out into San Francisco. Once again, it was dark except for garish street lights. Everyone there was naked, and their heads were on backwards. And if that wasn't bad enough, they all had snake eyes. 

The dream–if that's what it was–was becoming nightmarish, even hellish. In hell, damned humans and demons had snake eyes. All the old-timers had snake eyes. Some of the newcomers developed snake eyes after they became acclimated to hell. The longer in hell they were, the more hellish they became. Some newcomers were already so diabolical that they had snake eyes the moment they crossed over. 

And another thing: it was always dark in hell. Usually night. The brightest it got was a polar twilight, but the sun never rose above the horizon. 

The sodomites noticed the new arrivals and began to surround them. Erik pulled the helmet out of the backpack, which made the three of them invisible. They kept on walking until they found another elevator. If this was hell, then the way out was the way up–assuming there was a way out. 


They stepped out into a cemetery. Indeed, it was so vast in all directions that it was more like a necropolis. As they walked they hard faint sounds that were hard to make out. It then occurred to them that the sounds were coming from under their feet. They stopped at some of the graves and put their ear to the ground. They heard people pounding and screaming inside the coffins. Using Aaron's rod for torchlight, they read names on some of the tombstones, like Harry Blackmun, Bultmann, Feuerbach, Freud, Hume, Mao, Marx, Muhammad, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Margaret Sanger, Sartre, Joseph Smith, Socinus, Swedenborg, Stalin, and Voltaire. They then resumed walking until the found an elevator in mausoleum. 


They stepped out into barren valley with a volcano lighting up the sky. Rivers of fire flowed from the volcano. It rained flaming snowflakes from the sky. They turned around to duck inside the elevator for shelter, but it had disappeared. Erik pulled a shield from the backpack and used it to protect them from the flaming snowflakes. But it rained down on the bare skin of the damned, leaving seared patches. Yet their skin healed in a matter of minutes. 

The three kept walking until they found another elevator. And a paradoxical elevator it was. Not set into a wall or tower, but just a box with nothing above it. Yet when they stepped inside and pushed the button, it took them up to the next story. 

The control panel always had just two buttons: the story where they entered and the next story where the exited. You could go up, but you couldn't go down. You could only go up one story at a time. And it always disappeared after they stepped outside. 


This time they stepped out onto a wasteland. The damned were wandering about while giant insects like hornets stung them from above, centipedes and praying mantises ate them alive, and fire ants swamped over their naked bodies. Yet after each ordeal, their bodies regenerated, only to repeat the process. It took the sword and shield for Erik, Derek, and Kyle to ward off the giant insects until they were able to escape into another elevator–like a box standing incongruously in the middle of nowhere. 


They emerged on a riverbank. They got into a boat and began rafting down a shallow river, under the current. It was smooth going until an anaconda snatched Kyle right out of the moving boat. Erik grabbed the sword and plunged into the river. He was able to slay the anaconda with his sword, then dragged Kyle's wounded lifeless body onto the bank. Although drowned and blooded, Kyle regenerated in minutes. They ditched the boat and walked along the banks until they found another elevator at a fork in the river. 


They stepped out onto a trail in a valley. A forest lay on either side of the trail. They began walking under a full moon. They heard howling in the distance. Then the howling came from behind. They turned around and saw, silhouetted in the moonlight, figures of something not quite human and not quite lupine. The figures had heads like a wolf, on broad shoulders, and a human torso. They were standing upright. They then went down on fall fours and gave chase to Erik, Derek, and  Kyle–who started running as fast as they could, but the werewolves were gaining on them. As they were about to be overtaken, Erik stopped and pulled Aaron's rood from the backpack. He handed it to Derek. It turned into a torch. Afraid of fire, it kept the werewolves at bay while the three of them were able to put on winged sandals. They were then able to outrun the werewolves until they found an elevator to dash into, with the werewolves not far behind. 


They stepped out into a jungle. Hidden pythons hung from the trees to seize unsuspecting hellions. Kyle used the shield as best he could to protect them from the pythons, but one of them grabbed Erik. Derek used the sword to decapitate the python. Erik was injured, but healed in minutes. 

Being intelligent as well as insatiable, the werewolves followed them into the elevator and began to resume their pursuit in the jungle. But having left the moonlight behind by moving onto a different level of hell, they reverted to human form–which made them a renewable feast for the lurking pythons.


Having found the elevator, Erik, Derek, and Kyle stepped out onto a swamp. They picked their way along a broad footpath. But it began to narrow until it was submerged at that end. Behind them, crocodiles crawled onto the footpath, inching their way to the new prey. There was no escape. They couldn't go forward or backward. Then Kyle struck the water with Aaron's rod. Water receded on both sides, leaving a broad footpath for them to make their escape. 


They emerged from the elevator onto a plain, lit up by an electrical storm. It was pitch black apart from flashes of lightning. During lightning strikes they could see the plain populated the damned. Every so often, thunderbolts struck them, making their naked bodies sizzle like hotdogs. But they regenerated, so the process repeated itself ad infinitum. Erik used the shield to protect the three of them from electrocution until they located the elevator. 


They stepped out onto a deserted city. They walked for blocks until they found a multistory garage. They figured it had an elevator, so they went inside. But this time the elevator was blocked by Satan himself. He was waiting for them. His body was androgynous. He had snake eyes. His expression was hard to describe: utterly mad and utterly malevolent. He had a retinue of hyena-headed demons. The demons surrounded Erik, Derek, and Kyle. Kyle used Aaron's rod to form a circle of fire around the three of them. At that, Satan cackled like a hyena and with a gesture, extinguished the fire. 

For the first time, the three were up against a superior foe. Their weapons were useless. Were they doomed? In desperation, Kyle begin to sing "I need thee every hour". Erik joined in. The Devil grabbed his head as if the hymn gave him an unbearable headache. Yelping like a hyena he fled, followed by his entourage. 


The elevator opened in a cave. Erik used Aaron's rod for torchlight. Kyle and Erik were beginning to lose hope. Perhaps there was no way out of hell. Maybe there was always another level. Always another battle. And they worried about Derek. By contrast, he seemed to be in his element. He was turning. His pupils becoming elliptical. Was too late to save him?

But their concern was interrupted by vampires emerging from tunnels in the cave. The vampires were wary of the torchlight, which gave Kyle and Erik the opportunity to don crosses. The vampires hissed and backed away. Seeing the elevator, the three made a run for it, but when they got inside, Derek held the door open to let the vampires in. He had switched sides. Erik shoved him out the elevator while Kyle pushed the button for the next floor. They felt a thud as the vampires slammed against the elevator.


This time when they came out, it wasn't another floor of hell but a mezzanine. They stood in a country churchyard just before sunup. The vampires followed them into the elevator. But the vampires were afraid to enter the church. They then saw this wasn't a polar twilight. The sky was getting brighter. They rushed back to the elevator, but it was gone. Now they were trapped. As the sun rose, them melted like slugs. Their bodies dried up like hardened slugs. Every time at dusk they regenerated, but there was no one in the churchyard to exsanguinate, so they suffered from unbearable thirst. Every time at dawn they melted like slugs. The cycle repeated itself forever. 

Inside the church, Kyle found an elevator in the sacristy. Had the vampires been able to access the sacristy, they could leave hell and enter our world. But when they put their hand through the door to test it, their hand was incinerated. By the same token, Satan could ride the elevator up to the mezzanine, but he couldn't enter the church. 


This time around, Kyle and Erik didn't step out of the elevator. Rather, Erik woke up. He was in his bed in the dorm room. With trepidation he went to the window and peered through the blinds. It was a clear spring day. Birds were singing and flowers were blooming in the sunshine. 

Erik went over to check on Derek, but he couldn't rouse him. Paramedics were unable to revive him. An autopsy revealed that Derek died in his sleep from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. 

Erik shared his dream with Kyle. Turns out they had the very same dream. Presumably Derek had the same dream as well. But he stayed behind.   

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Lost Destination

Ned and Esther Buchanan were already in their 50s when they decided to begin new life in San Francisco. Leaving New Haven, Connecticut by covered wagon, they joined the caravan in Independence, Missouri. But disaster struck when Esther died of snakebite in Wyoming. That left Ned with a terrible dilemma. He couldn't go back. He had no life in New Haven without his beloved Esther. But he couldn't move forward. To make a new life in San Francisco without her was unthinkable. 

He buried her where she died, then used her grave as the site to build a cabin. Her grave lay in the backyard, with a wooden grave marker. Everyday he spoke to her. 

There was a creek nearby. He planted a vegetable garden, and tried to feed himself by hunting, fishing, and trapping. 

As caravans moved through, he traded in the pioneers. They were a source of news. Some of them were sick. He prayed over a boy dying of scarlet fever and a girl dying of typhoid. 

One mother was penniless. He hadn't money enough to spare. He had barely enough to tide himself over for the fearsome winter. He couldn't afford to share what little he had. But his heart went out to her, and having nothing more to live for, he gave her all he had.

Late fall, when the next caravan came through, after a snowstorm, they found the cabin empty. In the backyard they found the frozen body of Ned, seated on the ground, with his back propped up against the grave marker, clutching a Bible in his icy hands. He and Esther made the journey after all, just by a different route.