Sunday, June 12, 2016

Someone To Watch Over Me - By T.R.Hart



Someone To Watch Over Me
by T.R.Hart

     I always hear Women saying that they’re “looking for a hero". This was not the case with Hero Bartley, the smallest, skinniest boy in Amherst, Maine. He was named by his father, an engineer, after the famous Hero of Alexandria, the Greek genius of antiquity, who created numerous wondrous mechanical machines and automata. Most know him for inventing the first steam engine, although it never did a lick of work!

   Hero was not your typical farmboy. He had neither the physical strength required for farming nor did he have any interest in agriculture.  Mr. Bartley inherited his father's farm and decided to try to maintain it with the aid of hired hands who knew how to actually run it. Arthur Bartley had a knack for business. Hero would never have "business sense" but his father realized that his son had an aptitude, (real genius)  for engineering. He encouraged Hero  to pursue his passion for all things mechanical. He had made wind driven mechanical toys at an early age and soon  began to spend hours sketching designs for other toys. Some were spring driven, or were powered by small batteries.

   He knew at an early age how to calculate gear ratios in order to vary the speed at which his toys would move. When he learned about his namesake inventing the steam engine he decided to make a small steam engine car. Once he even made a moving scarecrow that sort of looked and moved more like a robot than a typical crow scarer.  Mrs. Bartley was a former school teacher who encouraged Hero's love of learning by making trips to and from the town library several times a week. He was happy living on the farm and spent many hours alone tinkering in the barn on several projects at one time. The farm hands always peeked in to see what the little genius was up to and came to like him. Hero was a polite little boy who never was too busy to explain how things worked, and even took the time to build models to explain how things worked. He was a good teacher but excelled at inventing.

   I don't believe that Hero ever lost a science competition due to the mesmerizing effects of his moving exhibits.. Small in stature but a wiry in build, he was full of energy and never seemed to tire, especially while working on a project. He was a sociable boy, well-liked by both teachers and his classmates. His engaging personality and helpful attitude which came in handy during his two years in High School, but it soon became quite apparent that his teachers could no longer teach him. He was so smart that he fretted about missing one question in the SAT test denying him a perfect score. He begged to take the test again, and not surprisingly, achieved that perfect score.
   
   At only 16 years of age he set off for the University. His obsession with creating often attracted the attention of his professors who commented that he was their "Little Einstein". Hero had begun to pursue projects which would make life easier for all mankind. His experience of growing up on a farm  caused him to realize that laborious work earned little monetary gain . His answer to this disparity would be to invent robotic machines. 'Robots', he would always say, 'will be the saviors of mankind from drudgery!'

   Hero Bartley was a visionary, always thinking of new and better ways to construct machines that would be more efficient, lighter, and stronger, but most importantly, they would intelligent. His parents and professors were shocked when he refused an offer to teach at the university, the youngest professor ever at age 19! He set off to pursue his goal of making his contribution to humanity by his engineering feats. It was said that he knew more about machines than he did of humans.

   Hero worked as a research engineer for several major companies before creating his own business. Within a short time his hard work had paid off handsomely. His practical inventions were met with international acclaim and were very marketable. He had the sense to secure of patents of his inventions (He read about the Wright Brothers doing the same) so that no one could steal his ideas. Hero never  gave a thought about financial rewards as he knew he lived so simply that he would never want for anything, but rather he wanted his machines  to be so cheap to buy that every family could own one. His mother's story about Henry Ford's invention of the Model T had taught him that.

    As a young man Hero worked feverishly, unaware of the need for love or companionship, but when he turned fifty he realized that he was alone in the world after his Mother and Father both became terminally ill. Being an only child he became burdened with the responsibility of caring for not one but two elderly parents. Suddenly Hero was forced to retire and although wealthy, he craved the companionship of his fellow workers.

   During their illnesses Hero had began to think about making robots that could take care of the elderly and to aid caregivers, but unfortunately it was too late for his own parents. His father passed away first, and his mother, who was heartbroken without her "Arthur" followed shortly afterwards. Her last words to her son were: 'Father is calling, I have been lucky to have had someone to watch over me." Hero was devastated by the deaths of his parents. Like all of the family members that had gone before him, they were buried side by side in the family cemetery on the little hill which they called "Ladder Hill" hoping their souls would ascend from there into Heaven.

   Although the farm was still productive, hero knew that it was impossible to  find farm hands as trustworthy and knowledgeable as those his parents had hired. They were either too old to work or dead. It seemed that only transients, illegal aliens, and ex-convicts were available for this type of hard work. He had hired a few hands but found that they stole more than they worked. One year his crops remained un-harvested and discovered that his workers had "disappeared". The reason they left became clear when a customs agent came banging on his door looking for them.

  'Enough' he cried, 'humanity is too unpredictable these days! The only thing predictable is their unpredictability.' No one saw much of Hero and his little white truck for quite a while except for drivers that delivered packages to his farm. The little inventor was generous to them and they would always oblige him by helping to carry boxes into the barn which had been converted into a laboratory filled with his "experiments" of every shape and size. Ed, who had delivered packages was more of an overgrown boy than a man, was befriended by Hero Bartley.  He became his sole companion and marveled at seeing the developing projects taking shape in varied stages of completion.

   There were instruments fitted for the Combines that made them more reliable and safer to use despite the absence of a driver.  He had developed the "Centaur", a half- robot with a cart below the waist for seeding and weeding. Several of these had been built and drew crowds of curious onlookers who parked their cars on the side of the road each weekend to catch a glimpse of their hometown "Hero". Ornithopters fitted with cameras enabled Hero to survey his property from the air. They So cleverly  built they were that flew undetected by the spectators thinking that they were real birds. The farm became famous as a model of efficiency due to the excellent custodial care of its non-human workers. It was a spectacle to behold throughout the year, but it was at Christmas time that the farm came to life in a way that all could enjoy, especially Hero Bartley.

The "Christmas Effect"


   Hero was always thrilled to hear his mother proclaim "Hero let's take the car down town and look at the new Christmas Display!"  He would hurry down the stairs, grab his hat and coat, a sketchbook, and then put on his boots, even if there was no snow on the ground.  The skinniest boy in Amherst looked as if he had gained 20 pounds in the oversized coat that his mother bought hoping that he would grow into it someday.

   The aromatic pine trees that lined the driveway to the farm gave the holiday a special sense as the car passed. Hero rolled down the window to get a "whiff". 'Hey, close your window its cold!' his mother would laugh. Hero loved his father who had always encouraged his natural curiosity and spent time teaching him all the things that he had an interest in, but it was his mother who would bring out the playfulness in him and the happy moments which he would cherish long after they both were gone.

   Macklin's Department store was a festooned in all sorts of lights, trimmings, and sounds of the Season. Hero especially liked the smell and the sound of popping corn. Mother would always buy him some and was amazed that the small boy could finish the whole bag by himself. He remembered the Salvation Army brass ensemble playing religious tunes and the bright red kettle in front which reminded people to be generous as there were many less fortunate than themselves. Hero always saved some of his chore money, but his mother always give him an extra quarter to drop into the kettle,. As they passed through the front door their senses were inundated by all of the smells and sights the season could bring. There were bells and whistles and things that hummed, but it was on the upper floor that held the Christmas display that drew the shoppers and their kids in droves.

   The artificial snow filled landscape was guarded by two gigantic toy sentries with fresh painted-on smiles and standing on either side of the candy striped portal. Their heads, topped by the tallest military hats moved slightly to the left then right as if they were keeping rhythm to the music being played for the shoppers delight. Hero took out his sketchbook immediately and  began to notice every little detail that he could jot down. His sketchbook was filled with elves, reindeer, and any the moving figures that he came upon. He tried to imagine the mechanisms causing movements, the conveyance of electrical pathways supplying the power to the lights  and motors. He even took time to examine the materials used in their construction. The store's Santa, being human, held less interest for him than the automata, but a new toy robot that he displayed to the children drew him like a moth to a flame. This "Space Robot" moved in several directions while blinking its green lit eyes off and on. It could turnits body a full 360 degrees, and picked up small metal objects with its "magneto" clamps. It  even spoke in a robotic voice and said:"Merry Christmas!" The best thing of all was that this robot could be controlled remotely! This was the day that changed little Hero's life forever. Many years later he would refer to this as the "Christmas Effect".

   Expressing a feigned belief in Old St. Nick, Hero wished for no other toy than the robot he saw at Macklin's. It is all that he could think of or talk about that Christmas. The teachers at school had to keep him focused on his class work. He thought of the sight of the robot wrapped under the tree waiting for his command to bring it to life.  He stayed in the kitchen each night making moveable paper-mache figures while his mother baked all sorts of cookies for Santa's Christmas Eve visit. Within a couple of weeks he had made his own little Christmas village complete with elves moving their little heads and arms in front of a lighted toy shop while Santa peeped through its frosted window. Rudolph stood atop of its snowy roof and blinked his red nose!

    Hero displayed his moving diorama at school. The girls teased him, saying that Hero played with "dolls". The boys thought that his robots were pretty neat but to them, it was merely a passing interest. They hoped for a new set of skates, or better yet, a new sled. Of course, he was oblivious to everything and everyone around him as he headed home with his mother on the first day of his Christmas vacation. While they were away his father and the hired hands were turning the farm into a winter wonderland. It was already getting dark when Hero and his mother drove up the driveway ablaze with lit trees, but the most beautiful tree of all was inside his house that would reveal the cherished present he hoped and prayed for.

   Christmas Eve was always a special event at the Bartley farm.  His parents would always host an open house for friends and relatives. The hired hands, usually middle aged bachelors, welcomed a savory home cooked meal and the hot punch amply supplied with spirits. Mr. Bartley was a competent piano player and banged out Christmas tunes. The songs were accompanied by a myriad of voices, some pleasant and some just plain awful. At about 10 PM the guests would be departing and it was not soon enough for Hero as he knew that Santa would not make his appearance until the everyone was asleep. Within minutes of being tucked into his bed, Hero was dreaming of the present under the tree that he had hoped for.

   Suddenly, Hero was awaked by a loud "bang" and the sound of sleigh bells. This was the same signal that he heard each year. It was time to check the tree! His parents were downstairs pretending that Santa had just been there, and they had seen him flying away from their bedroom window. "I wonder what Santa left for you?", cried Mr. Bartley. "I wonder who that large present is for?" Hero's oversized slippers slipped off his feet as he was overcome with excitement. He ran to the tree and grabbed the tag taped to the present and read: To: Hero From: Santa. In less than two shakes of a lamb's tail, he ripped open the wrapping to reveal his long anticipated gift- the Space Robot!

   Most children are content to play with their Christmas gifts for a few weeks before becoming bored and turn to other types of entertainment. This was not the case for Hero Bartley. With his ever present sketchbook in hand, Hero would jot down information about the toy, sketching the designs and functions of each part and how it was connected to the next part. Usually the power plant was a couple of batteries never exceeding the 12 volt limit, but his curiosity was such that Mother nearly fainted when she found him in the workshop with his cherished robot in pieces laid out on his work bench!

   Realizing his mother's anguish by taking apart the robot, the young boy attempted to calm her by explaining that he only wanted to see how the robot worked, and that he would put it all back together again. When he finished studying the robot, he never put it back together but instead cannibalized it for making his own robotic projects. His father made him promised never to do it again. The boy agreed. From this point onward Mr. Bartley would buy him the parts and Hero would build his own robots.

   Christmas was kept alive in memory of years past. Hero would keep the tradition of the "Open House" annually for the public's amusement. The "skinniest Santa ever" was none other than the host himself complete with robotic elves and reindeer. It was a marvelous sight to behold for children of all ages.  The presentations were larger and more sensational each year. Sometimes visitors did not realize that the elf that they were talking to was not human after all. People came from great distances to see the reclusive genius' creations year after year until the year that Hero had become ill.
   Ed Hinkle, the deliveryman companion known as "Hero's sidekick", noticed his friend becoming frail. Worried that he was alone and unmarried, Ed's wife, Ida, sent cooked meals for "Mr. Bartley" certain that he was not taking proper care of himself. The appreciative bachelor never failed to send a thank you note accompanied by a generous check.

   Despite his illness the farm ran efficient as ever. The Centaurs combed the fields seeding and harvesting. Orinthopters flew their perimeters scanning the landscape for any problem that might occur, but the aging genius, peculiar but always sociable, had become almost invisible. One night while Ed was visiting the convalescing Hero, he encouraged his friend to seek female companionship. 'Y'know,' Ed declared,  'Ida told me that you used to be sweet on Hildie Langdon back in the day... Her husband died 'bout a year ago and she might be looking for boyfriend. 'The little man let out a loud laugh that was unusual for the normally soft-spoken Hero Bartley. He even choked a bit from his laughter and said: "I met Hildie a couple of years back. She and her husband were at Bleuwe's diner eating dinner, or I should say... (Laughter)... she was... eating his dinner off his plate!... Ed, I'm skin and bones already and can't afford to lose a meal...besides, she at least a hundred pounds heavier than when I had my crush on her...and dumber than a chicken too!" After the men laughed for some time and eliminated all of Ida's candidates for Hero's companion, Ed griped that his friend was the "finickiest" man he ever met!" "Yep, you're right, I guess", came the response. "I need someone to watch over me."

Mavis

   Several weeks passed by before the townsfolk reported seeing Hero Barley driving his little white pickup, accompanied by a plain dressed but rather attractive woman. Tongues wagged and the phone lines buzzed with the gossip that Hero had found himself a "Honey". Mean spirited women, especially Hildie Langdon, scorned by rejection, declared that he was just a silly old fool falling for a "gold-digger". The old men sitting on the porch of the local VFW spied the happy little man driving by with his gal whose name they discovered was Mavis. Most of them just wagged their heads in disbelief, but one of them smiled and grunted his approval saying, "Atta Boy Bartley!"
   No one knew much about Mavis. Where did she come from? What was her last name? Maybe she was some other rich guy's former mistress... or even...some criminal on the run! There was never a shortage of opinions in Amherst concerning Hero's mystery woman. Curiosity seekers who never stopped by the Bartley farm before tried to find an excuse to visit, only to be disappointed when politely rebuffed by a robotic voice thanking them and stating: 'Mr. Bartley is unable to receive visitors today'.

   Some weeks passed and the gossip spread to other persons in town, but the scorned Hildie Langdon and Ida Hinkle, whose monetary compensation for cooked meals had dried up, decided that they would do a little investigating, or as Ed called it, "snooping around".
   Ida Hinkle was childless and Hildie's kids were grown-up and out of the house, so the two women had plenty of time on their hands to pursue their" investigation". Ed had complained that Ida was using the truck too much and one day while he was making a delivery realized that he had run out of gas. Ida failed to  put gas in the tank and a fuming Ed was forced to walk  a couple of miles to the nearest gas station. He forbade her to borrow the truck after that day, so Hildie became the driver. She drove her '49 Packard slowly by the farm each day with Ida peering out the passenger side window using a cheap pair of binoculars. The women never detected the robotic bird that flew by them snapping pictures and relaying them back to the farmhouse.

   Ida realized that Mavis might become suspicious if they visited every day at the same time so they decided to visit during the evening as well. One night they were able to see Hero through the kitchen window seated in a wheelchair. He was eating soup and being waited on by Mavis who wore that "ever-present silly smile on her face" according to Hildie Langdon. The elderly man looked lovingly at Mavis and grinned like a lovesick schoolboy every time she came near him. Hildie grabbed the binoculars from Ida and clucked, "That old fool...she's gonna' rob him blind and run off with all his money!" Suddenly Mavis moved toward the window to look outside. Hildie realizing that they had been discovered, started the car, shifted gears, and sped away pushing the gas pedal down to the floor. Mavis stood at the window smiling and then pulled down the shade.

   One night in early November the women were startled to see Mavis digging by the light of a full moon at the little cemetery on the farm that the Bartley's called "Ladder Hill". They were astonished to see how quickly she had dug the ditch without pausing for even a moment. One of the "Centaurs" drove up to the hill and began to collect the dirt into its bed. Mavis looked over at two women sitting in the parked car. 'That diabolical smile,' they thought. Then, without a sound, Mavis turned her head and followed the centaur back to the farmhouse.

  The two women raced  home to Ida's house to tell her husband what they had witnessed. "Ed!" shouted Ida, "we need to get the sheriff up at the Bartley farm. That Mavis woman is gonna kill Hero!" "She probably already did...that dang fool!" Hildie chimed in. Ed called the sheriff who told him to calm down while he finished his supper, and said: "I'll be up to the farm in 'bout a half hour." Ed and the two women piled into his old Chevy Truck and raced up to what Ida had referred to as the "crime scene".


   When they had arrived at "Ladder Hill" they saw Mavis throwing the last spade of dirt onto a newly dug grave.  The three sat in the truck wide-eyed and open- mouthed, shocked at what they had just witnessed. Mavis had buried Hero's slain body and walked back to the house with that "diabolical smile" still on her face.

   Ed drove down to the farmhouse and found that the sheriff had already arrived. The police car stood in the driveway with its lights still flashing. The front door to the house was open and a small crowd of people had gathered around. Everyone was asking everyone else what had happened, but only Ida and Hildie knew what had occurred. "She murdered him!" shouted Ida. "The dang fool..." followed Hildie.  The messengers had become the focus of the crowd's curiosity and admiration. It took minutes for the two gumshoes to divulge their story. Ed just shook his head and muttered "poor Hero."

   The sheriff came out of the house and dispersed the crowds as the coroner came down the driveway. Not to be intimidated, Ida and Hildie sneaked up behind him as he walked into the house. There sat Mavis, guilty as ever they thought, and with that strange smile still on her face. "How did she kill him?" muttered Ida. "Where's the weapon? Did she kill him with the shovel?" continued Hildie. "Why there's been no murder', the coroner replied, " The man had been dying of heart failure. It is all written down in his journal."

   The two stood in disbelief as the sheriff explained what had occurred.  "Y'see, this woman ain't hardly a woman at all, but a beauty of a robot... Seems that Mr. Bartley created it to take care of him when he couldn't take care of himself...buried him when he died. Heck, she's the spittin' image of that woman in the picture. On the fireplace mantle was a photograph of a plainly dressed, but attractive woman. It was later determined that the young woman in the photograph was indeed Mavis Bartley, Hero's mother.


The End

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