Psychiatrist Dr. Charles Barker has just moved his practice from New York City to a small town not far north of Albany. Most of his books are still unpacked beneath waiting shelves. A new patient, Lewis Fuller, is waiting quietly in the outer room as the doctor arrives. Charles invites him into his private office, puts him at ease, explaining that he works on a first name basis, offers him coffee, tea or water, asks him what ‘s on his mind. “My assistant says that she had a brief conversation with you, but that you only gave your name. Perhaps we could start with your family or your friends?”
“My family were all killed when I was seventeen. My brother was only ten.
“We’ll get back to that,” said Charles, noting that the young man was growing upset. “And your best friend?”
“Alden Lee. He died after a long and satisfying life, at age eighty-eight.” That would make me 255 now. Do you believe me?”
The psychiatrist reassures Lewis that he never tells anyone that he doesn’t believe what they are telling him, but will listen, and then offer counsel. “”For as long as you want to talk, I will listen.”
Born in London, England in 1760, Lewis says his family emigrated to England’s American colonies in 1771 after disagreeing with the direction England’s government was taking. They had a farm north of Albany, New York when the American revolution began. When a detachment of British “Redcoat” soldiers demanded housing on their farm and his father refused, the officer shot his father as a rebel, and when his mother protested, she and Lewis’s ten-year-old brother were also killed. Lewis escaped to the barn unnoticed, then fled to the nearby forest carrying the family’s two muskets.
He reached the nearby town of Barkersville, where he enlisted in the local unit of the Continental Army in time for the battle of Saratoga. Lewis and his army friends took part in several other battles, and survived to witness Cornwallis’s surrender of British forces which ended the war.
After the war, Lewis attended Kings College (which later became Columbia University), majoring in agriculture; built a new house and barn and planted crops. He never appeared to age; most people always took him to be about age twenty-five. When the war of 1812 broke out and he heard of British troops invading Indiana Territory, he re-enlisted as a Minuteman, but arrived in Indiana only to be captured by the British and spend the next three years in an English dungeon before managing an ingenious and daring escape.
Throughout the nineteenth century Lewis encounters younger generations of his revolutionary war buddies. With the onset of World War I, Lewis meets entirely new ways of warfare on the “western front” where militia and regular army must sheild themselves in trenches to escape enemy machine gun fire. Lewis later discovers that “Sam”, who has protected his back throughout the battle, does not exist anywhere on his regiment’s roster. He asks psychiatrist Charles whether he believes in angels. Sometimes, he concludes, situations exist that have no explanation, but must be accepted as obviously real,
In the 1920s, Lewis admits to his psychiatrist friend that he made a major error of choice, in becoming involved with Chicago criminal Al Capone as one of Capone’s bodyguards and drivers. Lewis spent seven years in prison for his part in a drive-by shooting. He knew that to admit his association with the Capone gang would cause Capone to silence him permanently, so he did three things. He withdrew all the money in his several bank accounts and deposited it all in several accounts in new banks. He sent the police an anonymous letter accusing himself of involvement in the shooting. And he lied that he had never known Al Capone. He then accepted his jail sentence, did his time , and walked away a free man in 1935, to continue life on his New York farm.
His worst nightmare, he confided to Charles, was his time near the end of World War II when he participated in the liberation of Buchenwald, the death camp in Nazi Germany.
What Lewis did not tell the psychiatrist was the last fifty years of his life.
Author Tyler Benak, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, has created an engaging first novel, written with compassion and a knowledge of human nature. I look forward to seeing his future work.