NO PLACE LIKE HOME by Carlton Herzog 

I

Jake woke drenched in sweat. He sat up sharply as if he were expected to be someplace else.

He fumbled on the nightstand for his glasses. He couldn’t feel them. Squinting didn’t help; it never did. They were not on the nightstand where he had left them. This made him very angry, so angry he thought about smashing the room to bits with a baseball bat. But since he couldn’t see where it was, he resorted to his default anger position, profanity. The epithets shot out of his mouth like hot bullets from an Uzi. This was not, however, commonplace profanity, for Jake had honed his skill over the years stringing together epithets the way a master jeweller strings pearls. At all times Jake fancied himself a wordsmith, so whether he was fashioning new words to describe his intellectual discoveries or recycling those he had heard before into magnificent expressions of rage, he took a certain pride in his work.

When his groping located the glasses on the floor, and he put them on crooked at first, he noticed that the electric alarm clock was dead. He headed downstairs to see the kitchen clock. Toto the German Shepherd followed, sniffing the same patches of worn carpet on the stairs he sniffed every day. Jake said, “I should have named you Sniffy cause if you ain’t sniffin’, you ain’t livin’. Better yet Big-Nose. No, Missile-nose.” Toto turned at the sound of his voice looked him in the eye and barked. Jake laughed and said, “I speak dog and I know what you just said.” Toto barked again. Jake replied, “No you didn’t. I distinctly heard you say, ‘At least I don’t need coke bottles to see’.”

Toto was the one “person” in life that Jake loved. He liked to pretend that Toto was more than a dumb beast.

When Jake got to the kitchen, he found his father sprawled on the floor sound asleep. An empty bottle of vodka lay next to him. Without giving the matter a second thought, Jake stepped over him and strode into the kitchen. By now, the drunken pass-out, which could be anywhere inside or outside the house, was as routine as the sun’s rising in the east and setting in the west. You could set your watch by it.

The kitchen clock had also stopped. He opened the refrigerator to get some milk. “Dark!” he said aloud. He also noticed that he was exhaling frost breath. “Furnace out,” he thought. He opened the cellar door, walked down the stairs, opened the fuse box and switched the main-breaker off and then tried to reset the furnace. Nothing happened.

He decided to wake his mother. As he walked back through the living room, he drew back the curtains and looked out the window. The forecast had been for snow. He stared slack-jawed at the vista before him.

The front yard, the houses across the street, and all the cars, were gone. In their place was a rolling plain of peach and rust coloured sand littered with boulders. It stretched to the horizon under a hazy mother-of pearl-sky.

Jake thought he might still be dreaming. After all he had seen this landscape before in the photographs sent back by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. “Mars! Mars! Mars!” rang in his head like the old bell in Notre Dame cathedral. He felt dizzy. He felt sick. He felt a cold fear climb up his back, rest on his shoulders then burrow into his very soul. He sat down on the sofa. He sat there for what seemed forever, trying to wrap his mind around what he had seen.

Then he began to yell “Mom!!!” at the top of his lungs. He turned around and faced the wall on his knees and began pounding the wall in rhythm to his cries. “Mom” “Bang” “Mom” “Bang” “Mom” “Bang.” Toto began barking as much from the noise as from a desperate need to relieve himself. His father never stirred. Finally, his mother came hurrying down the stairs. “What is it?” she asked. “Your father?” His sister followed close on her heels.

“Look outside,” he rasped. His mother stared out the window and said nothing. Then she went to open the front door. He ran over, yanked her arm off the doorknob. “You open that door and you’ll kill us all!” he warned. “We’re not in Kansas anymore! That’s Mars. We can’t breathe the air. It’s almost pure Co2.”

She looked at him as if he were insane. But she backed away from the door and asked him “How?” Helpless to offer a rational explanation, he stammered, “I don’t know how. But I know that if I’m right we don’t have long to live. The scotch-guard we put up on the windows and the new door seals will protect us for a while. There’s no power for the furnace, but even if there were, we couldn’t run it since that would just use up the air faster. The chimney baffles shut automatically when the furnace isn’t running. That’s probably why we still have air. It won’t last though.”

“Where’s your father?” she demanded. 

“Out cold on the kitchen floor,” Jake said flatly. 

“Get him up now!” his mother ordered. “I need a moment to think,” she said to herself.

“He’s not moving,” Jake shouted from the kitchen.

“Pour water on him if you must but get him up and on his feet. Start a pot of coffee.”

Jake said, “There’s no power to cook anything.” 

She screamed, “Get his ass up now while I figure this out!”

Jake began pushing his father’s shoulder blade. When that didn’t work, he tried yelling in his ear. David Hume groaned but did not move. As he had so many times before, Jake held his nose because his father had relieved himself inside his pants. “Get up, Smelly. Get up, you ball of filth and stink. We’re all gonna’ die soon,” Jake barked. When that failed Jake yelled obscenities at his father and repeatedly slapped his head. The combination of sounds and blows revived David Hume from his self-induced stupor. He rolled over and looked at his son through half-closed eyes watery eyes. “What is your problem?” he whispered. 

“You need to get up and look out the window now. For once in your miserable life make yourself useful. Be a father rather than a parasite.”

Despite his pounding hangover, David Hume had a brief epiphany. For the first time, he truly realized in his heart of hearts if only for a moment that his own son despised him. That disturbed him as he rolled over and pushed himself onto his knees. His hands shook, dried mucus festooned his nose and lips. Still on his knees, he pivoted and faced the refrigerator. He weakly stuck out his arms and leaned on it for support.

Jake glared at him with laser-like intensity, a grimace of disgust contorting his face into a mask of hate. Under his breath, Jake muttered, “This is the dolt what sired me, the lout I must call father’. Where’s the justice in that? Did I commit some unspeakable crime in a forgotten past life to deserve this fate? Or am I just Fate’s plaything, a fly to be tortured then killed for sport? Why do I insist on being an accomplice in my own torture rather filing for emancipation or running away?”

As Jake wallowed in self-pity, David Hume looked through the arch to the living room where his family had assembled in front of the window. They were all wearing the winter-coats and hats Dorothy, Jake’s younger sister, had fetched from the hall closet. Toto, his bladder full, sat among them expectantly, mulling over the advisability of finding a corner to do his business.

David looked out the window. Dumbfounded, he asked his wife, Amanda, what he was looking at. She filled him in, barbing her narrative with sarcasm and disgust. “Sorry to disturb your rest. God knows you need it after all the drinking you’ve done around here the last few months. But your son, you do remember your son, his name is Jake, and that one over there is your daughter Dorothy. Now your son believes, and I’m inclined to agree, that what we are all looking at is the surface of the planet Mars, which coincidentally, we currently inhabit. What is that keen alcoholic brain telling you about our next course of action?”

He gave her a blank stare and said, “And you expect me to do what exactly? According to all of you, I’m a no-good drunk. According to you, I don’t have an ounce of brain in my head. According to you, you would all be better off if I were dead.”

“What do you expect?’ Amanda shrieked. “You lost your job at the Post Office. How in God’s name did you lose a job for life, a job where your protected by a union second only to the teamster’s in clout, a job where you have to murder somebody in order to get fired? And you managed to do that with your drinking. What do you do now? Nothing because your next job was at the loser—I’m sorry—the liquor store, where you also got fired because of your drinking. The only difference is there you killed bottles rather than people. I’m sorry if these words hurt your feelings, that they make you feel less than, but in my book and everybody else’s with half a brain that makes you the ne plus ultra of idiots, lord of the empty-headed, chief of the grey matter deprived. And we at the mercy of your impoverished cognitive architecture.”

David Hume asked, “So why have you stayed with me? I’ll tell you why. You’re afraid to take the children and go it alone. I’m your ready excuse for all your problems and difficulties in life. Don’t blame me, blame the drunk I married. You wear your pity pot like a badge of honour. If I’m addicted to alcohol—and I don’t deny it not for one second—you are addicted to the alcoholic. I’m your mission statement. Without me you’d be just another freelance harpy shrieking and moaning her way through life.”

Jake thought to himself, “I’m screwed. We’re all screwed. Talk about adding insult to injury. Even in our last moments on earth—no, Mars—these two alley cats will go on fighting to the bitter end, and for what? To see who’s right? Who can inflict the most damage? How can that possibly matter now?”

Dorothy interrupted, “This isn’t helping. We need to call for help.” Amanda looked at her and said, “Run upstairs and bring me the phone. And bring me some pants. Put some on yourself and get some for your brother and father. Jake, is the propane stove still in the basement?” Jake objected, “Mom, we can’t. It’ll use up air.” She looked at him defiantly and said, “Go down and get the stove along with anything else useful, flashlights, tent, sleeping bags whatever. Just do it.”

Dorothy returned with the cell phone and clothing. She handed the phone to her mother, asking, “Will the signal reach all the way to earth?” 

Amanda said, “I don’t know. Even if it can, there’s still the issue of whether we’re even facing earthward.”

David quietly stated the obvious. “Nobody can help us. NASA can’t get back to the moon, let alone another planet. And what if they could! We’d be long dead by the time they got here.”

“I want to call Jennie from next door and ask her if there is a hole where our house used to be. And if there is then I’m calling my parents, then yours. Let them know what’s happened. Have them notify the authorities. This might be part of something bigger.”

Jake had come back up from the cellar. He dropped the stove and sleeping bags. He watched her dial then said, “At the speed of light, it’ll take twenty minutes for the signal to reach the earth. By the time you know when to start talking they’ll have already hung up.” His mother looked at him and said “We—I—need to try, to do something. I feel so helpless.”

Talking to no one in particular, Jake said, “I wish I knew exactly what hemisphere we were in, or if we were near any recognizable landmarks like Olympos Mons or Valles Marineris.” 

“Why?” his father solemnly asked.

Jake said, “If by some fluke we manage to get through, we could tell them where to look for what’s left of us. Eventually somebody will land on Mars, so why not point them in our direction. They’d find the house or rather what’s left of it. Try to solve the mystery. What caused the house to vanish from earth travel 140 million miles in the blink of an eye and land intact on Mars. Think about it: sand will cover the house and enclose us in an airless microbe free tomb. We’ll be preserved better than an Egyptian mummy.”

“I feel so much better knowing that we’ll be giving posterity a riddle to ponder,” David Hume said dryly.

Looking at Jake, Dorothy said, “We were here first. Before NASA. Before the Russians or Chinese. We’ll go down in history as the first people to set foot on Mars.”

David Hume smiled and said, “Actually, we’ve only set house on Mars first. Too bad we can’t go outside and see if we crushed your Aunt in the process.” 

Dorothy laughed. She never liked her mother’s sister. Something about that witch-sharp nose stuck to that stick-thin body, thick eastern accent, and addiction to garish hats. 

Feeling the lightness of the moment, Jake said “Neil Armstrong can bite me: one house for man, one enigma for mankind.” David, Jake and Dorothy all laughed. 

Seizing the moment Dorothy added, “What we really need is four pair of ruby slippers. No, make that six if we’re taking Toto along.” Except for Amanda, they all doubled over with laughter.

Amanda, her face beet red, snapped, “Shut up! Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” That only made them laugh all the harder.

Amanda put down the phone, saying, “I can’t get a signal!” David asked Amanda what she intended to do with the stove. She looked him in the eye and said, “Last breakfast together. We may as well go on a full stomach. And while we’re eating, we need to get right with each other. Whatever our differences we need to clear the air.”

With that Amanda gathered the stove and its accoutrements. She walked into kitchen and began preparing breakfast. They all gathered around the propane stove. To feel its warmth amid the gathering cold. To gather in all the aroma of frying bacon, eggs and pancakes.

They sat down to eat. As he swirled pancake in yoke then forked bacon into the mix, Jake commented on their situation. “I have a theory,” he said. “Well maybe not a theory, but more like a hunch or suspicion. Do you want to hear it?”

“Tell us!” Dorothy urged cheerily.

“I was on the Internet at the school library. Sometimes I catch public lectures there, usually but not always science. Anyway, I happened upon one from Princeton’s Department of Mathematics, given by Professor John Conway. He had developed an idea he called the ‘Free Will Theorem.’ What he basically said is that elementary particles, such as electrons, have ‘free will’, and since we are composed of particles, therefore, we have free will.” 

Amanda asked, “And that means what exactly?” 

Jake said, “It means that the laws of physics are not writ in stone; the universe is inherently unpredictable.”

“If that were true, then how do you explain the periodic table of elements? That’s about as predictable as it gets when it comes to atoms,” Amanda said dismissively.

“You’re confusing absolutes with probabilities” Jake replied. “In the sun, two hydrogen atoms fuse to produce one of helium. That’s a law of physics. But they don’t always do it. We don’t notice it because only a statistically insignificant number fail to combine. Professor Conway was arguing that human assumptions about the regularity of cause and effect are based on belief and not actual knowledge. He went on to give other examples. Not just from physics, but also biology and sociology.”

“So, while groups move in predictable ways, individuals do not, is that it?” Amanda asked.

“Yes, people, animals, economies, governments, particles, whatever.”

“So just because most houses stay on earth that doesn’t mean all houses will stay on earth?” David Hume asked.

Jake said, “Right. Compared to the overall size of the universe, the total number of atoms that comprise us and our house is statistically insignificant. We and this house are tiny drops in an infinite ocean of matter.”

Dorothy, happy to be part of the adult table talk, added enthusiastically: “Why, this is just a clear case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” They all nodded in agreement.

Jake continued, “Who knows. Maybe this is what happened to the Mayans, the Roanoke colony, Amelia Earhart, and the ships and planes lost in the Bermuda triangle. Maybe there’s a roaming wormhole popping in and out of existence, randomly relocating objects within its field of influence.”

“If it had been a wormhole, then we would have been crushed,” Dorothy noted.

Amanda said, “I know one thing for sure. I can’t look out that window anymore without becoming nauseous. She looked at David and asked “Do you have anything you’d like to say? A prayer, perhaps, or a kind word so we can leave on an upbeat note.” The question took him by surprise. They never went to church or mentioned the word God in anything other than derisive terms. But he remembered the line from the movie Elmer Gantry that “Prayin’ is the cheapest first-rate medicine I know.” 

So, David Hume prayed, “As you probably already know we’re in a pickle down here and could sure use your help. Any help you can send will be greatly appreciated.”

Although their situation did not change, David felt that his mind had cleared. It was then that he felt moved to do what he knew he should have done a long time ago. He looked at Amanda and said. “I’m sorry. For not being there for you, for not being there for any of you. I know I suck as a father, as a husband, as a man. I wish I could make it up to you somehow. And I know it’s too late to ask for your forgiveness. I just want you to know that I love you all very much, even though it may not have seemed like it from my actions. I can’t blame anyone else. I can’t blame the alcohol because I chose not to get help even though it was offered to me many times by you and by others. I’m just glad, strange as it may sound, that I have been given the chance to see myself as I really am and own up to my faults.”

Amanda looked at him. She put her face in her hands. Then jerked her head back up, shaking it back forth together with her long mane of flowing golden-brown hair. She said, “You know I love you. I never stopped loving you. And if I nagged, it was because you hurt me. You left me for the bottle. Left me to run the house, to be the breadwinner, to be the maker of excuses upon excuses for your neglect and reprehensible behaviour in public. But I forgive you. I too am glad we’ve had this chance to make things right between us. Having said that, I need to tell you something. I haven’t always been faithful. I rationalized it by believing you had abandoned me sexually and emotionally. I didn’t care for them. They were just warm bodies. I just needed somebody to lean on until you came to your senses.... and you’re right I didn’t have the courage to go through life without you.”

“I know,” David said. “I don’t blame you.” He wiped the tears from her face and kissed her. He looked her in the eye and said, “Did you know that the name Amanda means worthy to be loved?” They stood there for a long time staring into each other’s eyes.

Jake broke the mood. “Since we’re all aboard the honesty train, I have something to share too. I don’t care for either one of you. I’ve had to call this town drunk—renowned for fouling his pants, puking in public and generally making a fool of himself and me in the process—a father. I’ve had to call a hellish whiney shrew, who took her anger towards her husband out on the two of us, a mother. Pardon me if I don’t well up with tears during this Hallmark moment and sing Kum-ba-yah. You suck as parents, and that is the strongest memory I will take away. I hate you now; I’ll hate you at my death; and I’ll hate you in the afterlife for all time, assuming there is some form of existence for me beyond this crappy one. I hope both you both sizzle and crackle like bacon for all eternity.”

David looked at Jake and said, “My father was a drunk as was his before him so on down the line of Humes back to Scotland. If I have anything to be happy about it’s that you didn’t turn out like me. You’re smart and hard-working, top of your class without any of the toys, gadgets or clothes your friends have. That has a lot to do with your mother and my negative example. Be grateful, despite what I’ve put you through, that you didn’t descend to the depths I did. I lost all respect for myself, even as those around me did. You have a sharp mind and a strong sense of who you are even at your age. Most people go through life clueless. I am but one of many who aimlessly walked the earth without ever knowing who I truly was.”

Smiling broadly to drive home the sarcasm, Jake said, “Thank you, father, for that inspirational talk. Now I can go to my grave with a smile on my face and a song in my heart because my now reborn Dad has informed me that I am all that I can be. I liked you better when you were stone cold drunk. At least then you just lay on the ground and didn’t try to pretend to be a father.”

Amanda snapped at Jake. “Enough. All that book learning has eaten out your heart. This is not the time for bitterness and recriminations. I don’t want to die bitter. Let’s try to remember the good times. There were some, I think. Our trips to the mountains and beach. Everybody seemed happy then. Birthdays. Christmases. Easter egg hunts. Jake, your father took you to see the Royals play the Yankees, the Sox. He’s taken you to a Chief’s game or two. I didn’t hear you complain about him then.” 

“Those were trips with the recreation department. We sat in right field for the baseball games and in the top tiers of the stadium for the Chiefs. But you’re right. I didn’t complain. In fact, I never complained about anything. About lack. About disappointment. About embarrassment. You pretty much had that covered so I let you, the expert on everything, handle my light work.”

David interrupted. “That’s enough. I’ve heard enough. This is our last meal together or otherwise. If you don’t knock it off, I’ll...”

“What? Beat me? Give me another reason to hate you? Adult confessions are valid but ours are not,” Jake yelled pointing to Dorothy. “Fine! Take your best shot. I’m made of metal. Besides, you hit like a girl with those wet noodle arms of your.”

“I don’t mean spank. I mean beat into unconsciousness. So shut your mouth and eat your food. Why don’t we all shut up and have some peace and quiet in our last moments alive rather than tearing at each other’s throats?” 

Everyone looked down at their food. The only sounds were the bacon slowly frying in the pan in the smoke-filled house.

 
II

A few moments later as each pondered his or her fate, a gentle rapping was heard at the front door. They stared at each other in wide-eyed disbelief then scrambled to the picture window to see what or who was making the sound. As they looked out, they could see a man standing on the front porch. He was holding up a dry-erase board that said, PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR; IT’S SAFE. They deliberated among themselves for a moment.

Then David said, “What have we got to lose?” He cracked the door open enough to peer outside at the stranger.

He was dressed in a lab-coat complete with pocket protector filled with pencils. “Hello,” he said cheerily. “My name is Mr. Baum. May I come in? Don’t worry, we’ve wrapped the premises in an enviro-bubble, so the air is fit to breathe and the temperature is 70 degrees.” David looked at him suspiciously but opened the door and allowed Mr. Baum to enter, then closed it rapidly behind him.

“I see you have questions. I’ll get to the point. I work for the DOR, the Department of Randomization, formerly known as the DOE, or Department of Entropy. Our job is to operate and maintain the Random Force.” No one uttered a word.

“I take it you’re not familiar with the Random Force. Let me explain then. There is the strong and weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, the gravitational force, and the Random Force, or randomization force. The randomization force is the straw that stirs the cosmic drink.”

“You work for the government?” David demanded.

Mr. Baum smiled and said, “Why yes, yes I do.”

“The U.S. government?” Jake asked

“Heavens no!” Baum declared. “I work for the CRC, or Confederated Realities of the Cosmos. The Department of Randomization is a subdivision of the Ministry of Uncertainty.”

“You’re an alien?” asked Jake.

Baum laughed. “I am no more alien to you than you are to me. In this reality, we are all interconnected at the quantum level. You just can’t see it.” 

“This is an experiment?” Amanda growled.

“More like an adjustment to maintain statistical integrity. Consider that in any repeating system errors occur. We call that ‘system creep.’ We don’t understand the how and why of it. But we have established that it was responsible for splitting the Super-force, which originated with the Big Bang, into the four known forces: strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravity; that’s what gave us stars, planets, and ultimately life. We know that it regulates causality in this neck of the woods. When it’s unstable, things that are supposed to happen don’t, and things that shouldn’t happen, do.”

Since Baum’s explanation tracked with his own, Jake felt competent to offer his own insights on the Random Force. “It causes biological mutations, doesn’t it?”

“Most certainly,” Baum replied. “It is why individuals behave in unexpected ways, why wars are won or lost, why civilizations rise and fall. Random Force, “system creep” or just plain old “chance”, it is the fountainhead of reality, the indeterminacy that determines pretty much everything.”

“Cleopatra’s nose,” Jake added. “The theory of the role of chance in history. The shape of Cleopatra’s nose, which was supposed to be one of her more alluring features, beguiled Anthony and thus caused havoc among the military government of Rome.”

“A classic example of history being influenced by unpredictable and unique factors as it is by general processes, movements or trends. A most trenchant observation, young sir.”

Jake had the floor and knew how to use it. “History can be explained by the ordinary errors and inadequacies of people, especially powerful people, rather than by any grand theory. That is why most military events turn into routs and national disasters.”

“Flawless execution, gold-star worthy. Nevertheless, you overlooked something,” Baum continued. “Even ‘system creep’ is not immune from ‘system creep.’ When that happens, the two cancel each other out and things go disappointingly dull. And when you get the monotony of invariant repetition, nothing evolves, and the system dies. Cleopatra’s nose would not have appeared as alluring to Antony under those circumstances.”

“Entropy!” Jake announced. “Like an endless winning or losing streak. DiMaggio’s getting consecutive game hits or no hits at all into infinity.”

“Exactly!” Baum said. “And that’s where I or rather we enter the picture. We reset the system with a totally random act outside the traditional understanding of cause and effect. Hence the relocation of your home off-world. We call it the conservation of randomness.”

“Like reshuffling the cards or blowing on the dice to change your luck,” Jake said knowingly.

“My word, you are a bright one. We could use you at the DOR. But I digress. To continue the metaphor, once the cards are shuffled, there is a cascade effect within the game. You would call it the butterfly effect in which a small change in initial conditions can have a dramatic impact over time.”

“You’re like an author revising a manuscript. Change a word, sentence or paragraph and you change the flow,” Dorothy said in her most didactic voice.

“Yes, I suppose you could look at it like that: you and your house are a single paragraph in an infinitely immense book,” Baum responded.

Looking at David, Baum chided him for the puzzled look on his face. “Why so confused, sir? Of all people, you are the one who should need no explanation at all. After all, your remote ancestor was the Scottish philosopher David Hume. He understood all this better than anyone else on your world. Sceptic that he was, he pointed out that simply because the sun had risen over the earth every morning since the earth was first formed it does not necessarily follow that it must continue to do so. How he loved to deflate metaphysical pretensions to knowledge, to make other philosophers and scientists doubt their own assumptions, to show that the human ability to know anything for sure is in doubt.

“Did you know—of course you don’t—how could you—that at the Ministry of Uncertainty, David Hume is our patron saint? In honour of his memory, our credo is Don’t be too sure of yourself. It’s etched in archaic script above the vestibule.”

David eyed him with the blazing eyes of a berserker. “This has all been for what? To reset the mechanisms that make things work?”

“Don’t worry,” Baum said soothingly. “We’re going to send you and your house back safe and sound in a little while. You will have plenty of air to breathe while you wait. And what a story you and your neighbours will have to tell the National Inquirer. You can make some money off the deal if somebody had the presence of mind to take a picture of the gaping hole where your house used to be.”

David wanted to kill him. But before he could do anything Toto had walked behind and very casually bitten deep into Baum’s Achilles tendon. Baum screamed in agony. The Humes, however, were not through with him, not by a long shot. Amanda charged in from the kitchen with a skillet full of scalding bacon grease. She splashed it in Baum’s face screeching, “How’s that for random, you creep?”

Baum fell face first onto the floor with a thud. As he writhed in pain from the burning grease and Toto’s fangs sunk deep into his ankle, Baum cried out, “Why are you doing this? I saved you. The others wanted to let you die here. You should be grateful.”

“We are.” Jake laughed. He then kicked Baum in the ribs and said, “Can’t you tell?” Immune from the hysteria to that point, Dorothy ran over and began jumping up and down on Baum’s unbitten leg, trying to break it. As she did, she yelled, “I love you, Daddy!”

“I know you do, Honey. I know you do,” David cooed lovingly. For the first time in a long time David did not have a compulsion to drink. As he watched his family exact retribution on Mr. Baum, he pondered where they would all go from here. Could all the emotional damage they had inflicted on one another be healed? Could they be a family again? Could they be happy? Time would tell. If he learned anything today, it’s that Baum, the doctor of destiny, couldn’t read his own future any more than a die could read its own dots. It is an indeterminate universe filled with sinister bends and unexpected turns to confuse the unwary. Where the flap of a butterfly’s wing or the slope of a woman’s nose could ripple through time and space, causing the extinction of species, the collapse of whole civilizations, or, as in this case, the apparent reconciliation of his family to him. Who can say what the future holds? But for right now there was one that he could be sure of, one indisputable truth that not even the Ministry of 
Uncertainty could overturn, and that was, to borrow a line from the Wizard of Oz, There’s no place like home.

 

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