"A Study Abroad"
The horn blew three times on the Hevnance cruise ship. Crowds of families began hugging their children goodbye as the gate to the ship opened. The Children were students heading off to their selected study abroad programs. One young Man named Prondo Katrilican was standing alone, watching other fellow students get in line to embark on the vessel.
This is going to be something! Prondo thought. The moment had come for Prondo to head off to school and figure things out about himself.
"You can still change your major and apply to another school," a desperate voice said behind him.
Prondo turned to see his Father, Kildac, holding up his distraught Wife, Sarla. During the week leading up to Prondo's departure, Sarla had come close to fainting numerous times. The thought of her child studying abroad was bringing Sarla to the brink of a breakdown.
"There's no shame in backing out at the last minute," Kildac said. "Look at your Mother. She's a basket case about this. Do you see what you are doing to her?"
Prondo ignored Kildac's last attempt to reconsider his collegiate choice. Prondo was an average student in high school, so it stunned his parents when he was accepted to the University known as E-6.
"Mum, Pop, I'm going to be fine at E-6. I know it freaks you both out, but this is something I need to do."
"Why do you want to study at E-6? That place can be dangerous," Sarla cried. "Can't you see what this is doing to me?"
The Boy was already nervous about studying away from home, yet Kildac and Sarla persisted in fueling the angst that shook his confidence. Prondo needed to step out from the safety of his Parent's shelter and take on this challenge.
Kildac put his arm around his Wife to comfort her as she sighed in dramatic fashion. It was frightening to think of her only child heading off to E-6.
"Not all places on E-6 are bad, Mum," the Son said. "You're basing it on what happened to the Fiori kid."
Kildac removed his arms from Sarla and approached Prondo.
"The Fiori boy went to E-6 after studying a few years overseas at other schools," Kildac said. "He was experienced, and still, look what happened to him. I talked with his parents, and they said he's still not the same! And he was a smart kid."
Prondo crossed his arms and glared at his Father.
"And I'm not smart, Pop?"
Kildac winced at Prondo's accusatory tone. He had always thought Prondo was a little behind compared to other kids. Sarla intervened.
"Your Father is concerned. Since this is your first trip studying abroad, perhaps you should start off small. Maybe a school like Z-12? I heard the climate is comparable to what we have here and-"
"Z-12 is boring,” Prondo said interrupting Sarla. “I want some adventure. I can handle it. Look, I know you are worried, so I promise to behave.”
Kildac threw his hands up in frustration.
"It doesn't work that way, Prondo! This trip could end in disaster! You could fail! Do you want to fail?"
Prondo shook his head. His Father always asked him the “failure” question with whatever he attempted to do.
If I fail, then I'll fail. At least this time I tried, he thought.
Leslie, the study abroad guidance counselor, arrived and smiled at the anxious family. Most of the other students had already boarded the ship.
"Time to go," Leslie ordered.
Prondo nodded, hugged his parents, said goodbye, and embarked on the study abroad transport. Prondo had difficulty walking up the steep ramp to the ship; he could sense his Parent's watching him, waiting for him to fall.
'Pop probably thinks that I can't even walk up the ramp,' Prondo thought.
After a few more steps, the teenager made it to the top deck and stood with the other Students. Prondo turned and looked down at his Parents. They looked small and sad, which made him feel guilty for being excited. Leslie looked at the defeated Parents as they waved goodbye.
"I see this is your first time with him heading off to school. He'll be fine, Mom and Dad. The next eight weeks will go by quickly," Leslie said. "Besides, you can always observe him during the semester."
"He's going to E-6," Kildac said grunting.
Sarla moaned and started crying. Leslie consoled the sobbing Sarla. The Counselor was perplexed with E-6 being Prondo’s first choice. E-6 was not for the faint at heart.
"E-6? Ambitious young Man you have there! First time out, and he's going there? I can see why you're both worried. That place can be unforgiving even for the well-traveled."
As soon as the words came out of her mouth, Leslie realized she had made the already tense couple even more apprehensive.
Later a tired Prondo settled into his dormitory, found his bed, laid down, and closed his eyes.
Abraham had plenty of dreams during his life. Most of the time, Abraham’s dreams were either forgotten upon wakening or never returned. During the last five years, his dreams had turned into stressed-induced nightmares inflamed by Abraham's personal and professional burdens. His job was not just an occupation but an obligation where quitting was not an option, regardless of the extreme physical and emotional toll. Yet, no matter how heavy his occupational stress was, it paled in comparison to his personal tragedy, the death of his Son.
Throughout his life, there was a particular recurring dream that he couldn't elude. The dream was a long-time cerebral companion to Abraham. As the years went on, the dream was both a help and an annoyance. In a way for the dying Man, it was a comfort to have that dream. The recurring dream was a nightmare to Abraham as a child. Although it had terrorized him as a child, later, as an adult, it became more of a guide. Past midcentury in age, Abraham felt as if the dream was a warning of life's potential stumbling blocks and pitfalls. These pitfalls were always a topic of conversation between Abraham and his evening slumber guests.
In Abraham's dream, his two guests appeared warm and engaging as they spoke to their Son. Most of the time, Abraham stood off to the side like a casual observer as the family conversed. Abraham didn't know the names of the family members, so he referred to these guests as “Mum” and “Pop.” The parents' concern over their Son's academic welfare was usually the main topic. Due to their child's lack of experience, the Parents wanted him to study at an easier University to get his feet wet, but the Son was firm in his decision to study at a place called E-6. At times the Son didn't appear in the dream, and Abraham assumed he was tired of listening to his over-protective parents. The Son appeared to be estranged from his parents, preferring not to be near them. Abraham would listen to the parents and would feel as if he was their child.
When he was younger, Abraham believed that these dream parents were agents of the Devil and called them the "Demon Chatters." It was clear to Abraham that the family was not of human origin; they were short and stout with a red-colored lion's mane around their necks. Their heads were shaved on both sides, exposing deep red skin. An off-colored red strip of hair, similar to the mane, rested in the center of the skull reminding Abe of the Mohawk Indians that he read about in books. Yet despite their demon-like appearance, the parents showed genuine concern for their Son and Abraham's life choices. They had resigned themselves long ago to their Son's decision to study at E-6. As for Abraham, they advised him to finish what he started, even though the burden was heavy. The Demon Chatters would often give what Abe termed the "I-told-you so!" lecture when he complained about his job. As the years went on and the effects of abject stress from Abe's personal and occupational demands intensified, the Demon Chatters listened to him with compassion.
As he lay on his death bed, Abraham welcomed the familiar occupants of the dream. He felt that the Demon Chatters, were there to support and encourage him towards the new journey. Their kind faces faded in and out in a set of scattered images as Abraham teetered between life and death. Their once scary demon visage now appeared angelic to him.
The Son did not attend Abraham’s departure. It had been quite a while since the Son had appeared in the dream, and Abraham assumed that the Son’s schooling was complete and perhaps gotten married.
Abraham felt a draft at the base of his skull, as if there was a tunnel being carved out from the back of his head. The tunnel ended behind his right eye. Then, the dream shifted into focus as the Demon Chatters spoke to Abraham in chorus.
"Let go and come home. Grades are in, and school is out. The semester is over, and you did not fail!"
Abraham agreed with the Demon Chatters that it was time to depart. Death had arrived waiting to escort him. Abraham died with his wife Mary sitting by his side.
The transparent glass coffin holding Prondo Katrilican opened. Prondo opened his eyes after dreaming once more about the tall Man. His body was sore from lying in state for the eight weeks he spent studying the semester abroad.
"This is why you don't study abroad on E-6. Look at him!" the male Demon Chatter, known as Kildac, exclaimed as he looked down at Prondo.
"Pop," Prondo asked in a dry, raspy voice with a dull pain radiating from his head. "Is that you?"
"Yes, of course it's me," Kildac said. "Who did you expect? You had us very worried. Look at your Mother. She's lost a lot of weight while observing you!"
Prondo looked at his Mother, Sarla, the female Demon Chatter. Sarla smiled, grateful to see her child awake.
"Yes, dear, it's me. It's so good to see you. Are you alright?" Sarla asked.
"I don't know. I'm confused. What happened?"
"You decided to study at E-6," Sarla said. "Remember?"
Prondo nodded, his mind trying to absorb a set of uploading rolling images.
"And you got shot by a Man with a pistol. It was a cheap shot from behind, but you should have seen it coming!" Kildac said. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Prondo shook his head as he tried to recall what had happened.
"Kildac, give Prondo a break," Sarla said. "He just went through something traumatic. It's going to take him some time to come to terms with his assassination."
"Assassination? What happened to me?"
Kildac threw his hands up in disgust.
"You were shot in the back of the head while you were watching a play," Kildac said.
Prondo put his hand on the back of the neck. His skull was intact.
Kildac was astounded that his Son had no recollection. However, the study abroad handbook alluded to the fact that there would be a "temporary loss of memory" while the student's data uploaded.
"A guy named Booth killed you."
"John Booth? The actor?"
"Yes, the actor, if you want to call him that," Kildac stated. "I didn't think he was particularly adept, but he pulled off a hell of a performance on you!"
"Why? Why did he kill me?"
"Because you were not paying attention!" Kildac roared. "You never pay attention to the things around you!"
"Kildac, enough!" Sarla yelled. Sarla smiled at her groggy Son. "Prondo, although you were revered by many due to what you did on E-6, you were also hated by many more. And this Man, Booth, was in the latter group."
"At least they caught the guy and killed him. In fact, he should be arriving here soon. I want to find that kid’s Parents and let them know where they went wrong raising him, but we can't because of privacy laws," Kildac said. "Can you imagine that? You can kill someone from a different life, and no one will ever find out about it? But I’ll find the bastard!"
Sarla shot Kildac a look. Then she took Prondo's red, clammy hands in hers.
"I'm sorry, Mum. I know that you and Pop didn't want me to go to E-6. I'm sorry I let you down by getting shot in the head."
"Prondo, don't you understand what you have done?” She asked.
“I know Mum. I failed.”
“No dear, you didn’t fail. Your first study abroad was magnificent and brilliant! You transformed your life into this incredible, meaningful journey."
"Why yes, Son," Kildac added. "What you went through…not many could have done what you did. And there were times, boy, where I thought you failed. In fact, it wasn't looking good most of the time. But ultimately, after surviving many trials and travails, you came through. And that speech you gave was quite extraordinary. We have it on the refrigerator door. I loved the beginning of it… 'Four score and seven years ago, our fathers'-
Sarla waved Kildac to stop. She then turned back to her Son, who was still quite confused. It was common after coming back from abroad for a pupil to need time to get his bearings; since the student arrives home before the data upload of their experiences is fully absorbed and comprehended.
"It will all come back to you soon. All I can say is that we are both so proud of you." Sarla said.
“And then there was the Emancipation Proclamation!” Kildac added. “It wasn’t a perfect college paper, but it eventually helped paved the way for abolition of slavery with that Thirteenth Amendment to your country’s Constitution.”
As the new data in his mind was organizing, Prondo started to recall his semester on E-6 and the speech he had called the Gettysburg Address that his Father mentioned.
"Yes, I remember him now, in my dreams," Prondo said. "The tall man was Abraham Lincoln. I was Abraham Lincoln."
"Yes, and during your semester, you became the 16th President of a country called the United States of America," Sarla said.
Leslie, the Guidance Counselor, stepped towards the family.
"Welcome back, Prondo, or shall I say, Mr. President? Typically, it takes most of us here on the Hevnance many years of abroad studies to attain what you did. Congratulations! I know your parents wanted you to start with an easier location rather than choosing E-6. The E-6 location, Earth as they call it, is tough compared to the other Worlds in the University. Humans are a lot more violent than those on the other Worlds; none of the others has experienced a Civil War as you did on Earth."
Sarla interrupted the Guidance Counselor. "We are proud of you. You did a lot of good things that changed the course of Humankind on Earth. What you have done is astonishing."
"Yes, your Mother is right," Kildac added. "We were worried about you the whole time, so we reached out to you through your dreams. Earth is a tough place to live. While you were arriving back home from outer space, Earth was in two World Wars in Europe, and your country, the United States, was also involved. Of course, times change, but it seems War is a constant with your alma mater. On the bright side, they made a large statue of you sitting on a chair called the Lincoln Memorial. I've been showing the pictures to the guys at work! It’s huge!"
Seeing how proud his Dad was, Prondo smiled. Then, as he sat up from the glass tube container, he felt a stiffness in his abdomen.
"Is it ok for me to get up?"
His parents helped Prondo swing his short stubby legs and placed his three feet onto the floor. Prondo was off-balance, so Kildac held onto him.
"Gee, you were really tall during your studies on Earth," Kildac said.
Prondo the red Alien, known on E-6 as Abraham Lincoln, wedged himself between his parents Kildac and Sarla. The couple guided their teenaged child out of the immersion classroom, known as the “recycle-soul” facility, and into the halls of the study abroad spaceship called the Hevnance.
"I'm glad you got our messages," Sarla said. "We weren't sure if they would get through that thick human skull."
"Yes, I remember them. Thank you; they were very comforting," Prondo said.
Prondo observed the other Alien species greeting their children. The area was a mixed breed of alien species, including Humans, grasping on to their children returning from their studies abroad. For Prondo, the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln was only his beginning.
"Prondo, do me a favor," Kildac asked.
"Next time you go off to study abroad, pick another planet besides Earth. Now let's go find that punk who shot you!"