Jason Henderson had never believed in reincarnation, but as he stood at the door of his newly-acquired business, he knew he must have died and returned in the year 1940. Nothing, at his first glance, indicated he was still in 2021, although he knew that to be true. 

            The convenience store specialized in “drinks, food, and all things fishing.” He knew that because the weathered wooden sign out front proclaimed it – not boldly, as the paint had faded to a muted grey, but still with enough vibrancy to draw in a steady stream of customers, or so the brokering realtor had said.

            “You’re sure about this?” he asked Ben Larson who stood to his right.

            “Yes,” came the reply.

            “All the paperwork is in order? It’s ready to go?” 

            “It’s all signed and filed, just waiting for you.” Those were more words than Ben had strung together in one sentence in the whole time Jason had known him.

Jason was not entirely ready to jump in with both feet but knew he really had little choice. The luxury of choosing his job and place of residence faded from his grasp when he became intimately acquainted with the US Marshal’s Office.

            Ben was Jason’s contact and lifeline. Jason had entered the Witness Security Program three months ago after his testimony convicted Mafia-backed financiers and broke open an elaborate embezzlement scheme that reached from his hometown of Houston all the way to New York. Jason’s life would be in danger following his testimony, and there was really no option other than to accept the protection offered by the Marshals. 

            Jason had spent many years resenting the fact he was an only child. Now, however, he was glad he had no siblings that might be in harm’s way because of his testimony. His parents had died in a car crash four years ago. He found comfort knowing they were not at risk, either. Having no family was suddenly a warped blessing of sorts. 

Sometimes, almost in a haze, he replayed the circumstances that brought him to this moment. If ever there was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Jason could attest to it. Had he not forgotten his cell phone and returned to the office unexpectedly that fateful evening, he would have never seen the documents lying on the workroom desk. His analytical mind made sense of them rapidly and he exited before being seen. The embezzlement was targeting the accounts of pensioners, most of whom had spent their lives in the honorable pursuit of public teaching. That had been his grandmother’s chosen field. Jason knew someone had to stop this. He did just that, despite the cost he knew he would pay for the remainder of his life.

            Ben and his associates at the department had been good to Jason. They had patiently explained the workings of the program. Jason was actually surprised to learn he’d called it by the wrong name all his life. He had never heard it described as anything but the “Witness Protection Program,” not the Witness SecurityProgram. Now, here he was – right in the middle of it. He just prayed it was successful, regardless of what it was called.

            The program is simple. Individuals who have testified in high profile cases and whose lives would be in danger as a result are given new identities and set out to build new lives. Because they are in danger, it is necessary to move them to something quite different from their norm. Jason was about to learn how dramatically different his remaining life was going to be.

            He had spent sixteen years with the accounting firm in Houston. He was constantly at the mercy of his I-Phone, laptop, blue tooth headphones, and any other piece of computer equipment that existed. He had a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and quickly jumped on any other social media platform that sprang up. He was the poster child for the ever-present need for the internet and all things technology-related.

            Jason’s reliance on and familiarity with computers and technology was coming to an end. Right now. Ben was fairly confident it was going to be very difficult and unpleasant for Jason to accept, even though he had been consulted and briefed on every step of this process.

            The new life arranged for Jason was on Lake Hudson, in the heart of Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma.  The area was remote and sparsely inhabited. Lake Hudson was nestled between three towns, with a combined population of just over 12,000 people. The numbers were far from equitable. Locust Grove and Salina each had less than 1500 residents. Pryor had a whopping 9539 residents. The scenery was beautiful and Lake Hudson boasted some of the best bass fishing in the state of Oklahoma. In autumn and winter months, hunters abounded in search of whitetail deer, duck, and geese.

There was virtually no cell service at the store, nor was reception any better at the small cabin right behind it that would be Jason’s residence. When Jason had a better grasp on things, he would swear there was an entire department in the Marshal’s Office which poured over the cell coverage maps of the nation and picked out remote, un-serviced areas for their next lucky witness participant. He almost laughed at a fleeting image of himself running a bait shop out of an igloo in Alaska. Yes, if he ever met these map researchers, he would hug them for choosing Oklahoma!

            Jason’s new life story would be that he was a 42-year-old bachelor who wanted to live on the lake in simplicity. The fact the store had come up for sale at the same time he decided to make a move was sheer luck. That’s the story, of course. The only portion of truth in his story was that he is indeed unmarried and 42 years old, although his birthday had been altered by the department as well.

            Jason had thought he was ready for the step back from technology. He understood that he could not have a cell phone and that his new location would not have internet or even cable television. Jason had protested, and vehemently at that, but Ben described it was almost impossible for someone like Jason, who had spent his days totally immersed in technology, to have it available and not use it. The department had learned the hard way with other witnesses who had unknowingly and unintentionally compromised themselves. The key, though, in gaining Jason’s acceptance was Ben’s somber reminder that if Jason slipped up and researched investment sites as he had always done, the risk was there that someone could find him through his digital footprint. That risk was not acceptable and Jason agreed to the terms of his new “simple life.”

The store held an array of coolers with drinks, including sodas and juices. Lunch meats and cheeses were available as well. Two upright freezer units with clear doors offered ice cream and frozen dinners, respectively. Several shelves neatly displayed the obligatory canned goods preferred by outdoorsmen – Vienna sausages, potted meat, and the ever-dependable Spam, which could be eaten cold or fried and slapped between two pieces of bread as a gourmet meal. Round out the shopping selections with chips and various candies and cookies, and a picnic basket could be filled.

One full wall was required for the famously-advertised “all things fishing.” Whatever an angler might need from rods and reels, to fishing line, to lures, to scalers, and all items in between could be found on Jason’s wall. A ready collection of live and frozen bait was available as well. ALL things fishing, of course. No false advertisement here. Jason’s new life had enough false advertisement to take center stage on its own.

He had forgotten how much of a role technology played in the average American’s life until he looked around the store and saw the absence of it. He spotted an AM/FM radio and a land-line telephone. At least the phone was of the push-button variety. He had actually been expecting a rotary dial phone. The only other evidence that the store was not in the 1940’s as Jason had first suspected was the presence of a microwave oven. Jason had a brief moment of alarm that Ben would see to its removal for fear Jason could conjure up a computer with the microwave element and send out unapproved emails. Given enough time with the internet, where YouTube held the solution to every problem, that might have been possible. Ah, Jason already missed the internet.

Except for being so totally bereft of anything slightly akin to technology, the store was a very well-stocked business and had been handed over in an excellent start-up position. Jason, with his finance background, would do nicely with it. He would just need to learn to fit in with the locals. He figured that opportunity would present itself fairly soon. A small dining table occupied the remaining floor space in the store, complete with four mismatched wooden chairs and a checkerboard atop the table. Jason was more than a little wary of the checkers crowd. He had to fit in and raise no red flags. It would not do for anyone to look into him or his background. Despite his new identity and life, he would forever be leery of too much scrutiny.

The cabin was even less technologically advanced than the store. Jason would not have thought such a thing was possible except for the fact he was seeing it with his own eyes. The cabin was fully furnished.  “Fully furnished” in this instance meant there was a small two-burner gas stove, refrigerator, kitchen table with two chairs, a bed, and a small couch. He noticed Scrabble, Monopoly, and a deck of playing cards stacked on a shelf. He felt like he was ten years old again, spending the weekend at his grandparents’ home. Briefly, he remembered that was a happy time and it had not required technology.  Maybe he could give this a go after all.

A fireplace apparently provided the only source of heat and he would guess that summer cooling came about from open windows or the ancient oscillating fan he saw sitting in the corner. Fortunately, they were at the end of summer where the temperature was almost ideal. He would need neither the fireplace nor the fan tonight. 

He shook his head, picturing people who would voluntarily renounce all manner of technology and live off the grid. His move in this direction was certainly less than voluntary. He was so glad the department had no objection to electricity or running water! He did not want to regress that far from technology and modern conveniences.

He momentarily envisioned his apartment before his life changed.  He had a big screen television in virtually every room. Alexa responded to his every whim. “Alexa, play jazz.”  “Alexa, turn on the tv.”  “Alexa, turn off the lights.”  You mean he was going to have to turn off his own lights from now on?  

He would never admit, not even to Ben who knew him best, that his coffee maker had a Bluetooth option that allowed him to turn it on from his cell phone. He could push the button when he woke up and his coffee would be waiting for him by the time he stumbled to the kitchen.  Is there even a coffee pot here?  Oh, yes. There, he found it.  It did not even have a timer option on it.  In addition to turning his own lights on and off, now he was going to have to brew his own coffee and wait while it did so?  This dearth of technology was getting worse by the minute.

Ben left him to settle in, assuring him he would come back from time to time unless Jason needed him urgently. In that case, all he needed to do was call. Jason had long since memorized the 24-hour number which would bring him the cavalry, if needed.  Jason was going to open the store tomorrow and begin his new life. That thought sent a wave of terror through him almost stronger than what he had felt when taking the stand at the recent trial. Lying in the dark, he eventually managed to drift off to sleep.

He woke to the alarm clock – an old, wind-up type. He was practically certain, if he searched hard enough, he would find it was stamped with the words “Manufactured in 1940” and he chuckled, again considering the possibility of reincarnation or even time travel.  The night had cooled dramatically but the dawn which greeted him was not uncomfortable. He pulled on a light jacket as he stepped off his porch. He wondered what the temperature was and almost reached for his phone to check his weather app. Just almost. Well, now what? He was nearly through the front door of the store when his glance caught the large round thermometer hanging on the outer wall. 64 degrees. Okay, one crisis averted. He could manage without the temperature app on his phone. 

By mid-morning, he was bored to tears. In his previous life, he would have already surfed through a dozen websites for news, accounting updates, and emails. How was he supposed to know what was going on in the world from his isolated vantage point at Lake Hudson, Oklahoma? He was even getting his hopes up for a newspaper delivery from one of the surrounding towns but then remembered Ben had told him the Pryor Daily Times had printed its last edition in August, 2017. Locust Grove and Salina’s news could only be found online at the NewsBreak website and, of course, he had no access to that.  He was truly in the land of the uninformed.

The only salvation came from the radio. Several stations actually covered the Grand Lake Area as he learned from patiently working the dial. Finding no jazz, he settled on the rock music and occasional news which emanated from The Wolf 94.5 in Pryor. Well, at least he would know if a weather catastrophe was ever headed his way. It was not quite as quick and efficient as his weather app would have been, but he decided it would work. 

Jason finally honed a schedule of opening and running the store. As expected, his checkers crowd showed up almost daily – old men who came to visit and play a friendly game. In slow times, Jason found opportunity to rekindle his passion for fishing. That was another memory courtesy of time spent with his grandfather. He saw sunrises and sunsets almost with new eyes. When he had been with the accounting firm, there was little time to appreciate the wonder of each day. He had emails to answer, stock trades to make or monitor, and an internet to surf. But that was an entire lifetime ago.

Jason eventually became so comfortable with his new routine that he forgot he was missing his cell phone and laptop and yes, even his Bluetooth coffee pot.  Ben Larson stopped by the store six months later, looking like any other tourist in need of a drink or directions to a boat launch site. He looked around at the men playing checkers and asked Jason if the store had wi-fi. Jason responded, “Nah. We don’t have any need for that here.”  Then he grinned inwardly because he had finally come to believe it himself.

February 10, 2023 17:56

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Wendy Kaminski
03:39 Feb 17, 2023

Lovely, Mary Ann, and a delightfully original approach to the prompt - WitSec! Nicely done! The whole story was enjoyable and an interesting exercise in what could be in one of those programs; I laughed out loud at this: "Jason had a brief moment of alarm that Ben would see to its removal for fear Jason could conjure up a computer with the microwave element and send out unapproved emails. Given enough time with the internet, where YouTube held the solution to every problem, that might have been possible." haha! To a one, most of the stories...


MaryAnn McCarn
15:33 Feb 17, 2023

Wendy, Thank you for your kind words. I laughed when I wrote the line you referenced, so I'm glad it evoked the same reaction in the reader.


Wendy Kaminski
15:36 Feb 17, 2023

My pleasure! :)


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