Episode 1029

The Little Things

by: Shawn P. Deal

printer friendly version



Portland, Oregon

November 12, 1989


        Immediately upon leaping into his new host, Sam felt woozy and dizzy. This was not a terrible surprise; the leaping process often caused a myriad of physical effects of some kind to happen to poor Sam. He knew he should just hold on and ride the wave out; very often it took just a couple of minutes for everything to become clear again. So he waited, hoping the time would pass soon.

        Sam’s world was moving; everything seemed to be a blur. He couldn’t see clearly at all. Yet he could make out that he was in a dining room of a small house or maybe apartment. It was sparsely decorated with furniture, a table and two barstools. A big man stood in the kitchen and was frantically waving some sort of blue blur at the ceiling. Sam did not immediately understand what the big man was doing or why.

        The world kept moving quickly. Suddenly, Sam worried that he was caught up in an earthquake. Somewhere in the recesses of his Swiss-cheesed brain, Sam remembered a few basic survival skills. He dropped to the floor and rolled under the table. He covered his head with both his hands and arms, determined to wait out the earthquake. Yet something was not quite right; the floor was not shaking, swaying or moving at all. In fact, Sam could not verify that he had ever felt it move.

Sam lifted his head out of the shelter of his hands and arms and looked around quickly. Nothing seemed to be moving except for the big man in the kitchen who was frantically waving a blue towel at a fire alarm on the ceiling. Faintly, Sam could make out the dinging sound of the alarm. His hands shot to his ears to cover them. A searing pain shot through his head – well, his whole body really, centering inside his head. The pain reminded Sam of the time when the dentist had begun to drill without enough Novocain being administered. Tears were streaming down from his eyes.

The pain was so intense that Sam began rocking back and forth. Strangely, that helped a little, but the pain was still incredible. His eyes were squinted closed, so tight that he saw a collection of white dots bounce against a dark background. What could make the pain go away? Sam was getting desperate. Wouldn’t this pain ever stop?  In his rocking motion, Sam accidentally hit his head against the leg of the table he was under. That had helped. In fact, that had helped a lot. He hit his head again and again. Then, realizing that he could get at a broader surface that he imagined would be even better, he began to hit his head on the underside of the table.

The pain began to subside at last. The more Sam continued to hit his head against the table, the better he felt. A wave of euphoria was slowly replacing the pain. Sam pounded away at the table with his head.

Sam had no idea how much time had passed. None whatsoever. Yet he felt something come in between his head and the table.

Slowly, Sam unclenched his eyes and the wave of euphoria was sliding away. Sam tried hurtling his head harder and faster into the table to stem the receding tide of euphoria to no avail. Whatever was between his head and the table was cushioning the blow to the point that the euphoria was dissipating.

Sam opened his eyes to see the big man kneeling next to him under the table, holding a pillow between Sam’s head and the table’s underside. Sam took a swipe at knocking away the pillow, but the big man was too strong, his arms too big, and his grip on the pillow too powerful.

“Nicholas, it’s all right. It’s all right. Listen, the sound is gone. Listen, the sound is gone.” The big man was very animated as he spoke to Sam using his free hand and arm to make a different gesture with every word he said. Sam tried to listen but found he could not concentrate past two or three seconds. The sound did appear to be gone as was the searing pain in his head.

Yet the world seemed to sway back and forth.

Sam felt the pressure of two hands being placed on his shoulders. He didn’t like the touch and immediately bristled at it straightening out like a board, which stopped his rocking back and forth, and the world stopped swaying.

“Why don’t you come out of there, buddy?” said the big man as he showed Sam how to crawl out from under the table. Hesitantly, Sam followed, mimicking the big man in every way.

“Go sit on the couch,” the big man said, making a grand gesture with his arms to show Sam the direction he needed to go. Sam crawled in that direction.

“You can stand up now Nicholas, if you want to?” the big man said as he stood up himself and walked into the kitchen.

Sam picked himself up off the floor and walked gingerly to the couch. Methodically, he dropped down into it. The couch was big and fluffy, and Sam immediately felt good in all the places that the couch touched him. He moved to the corner of the couch so his one side could be touched by it too.

The big man came back with two glasses of ice-cold water that he placed on the wooden coffee table. “Here buddy, this will make you feel better.” In the corner of the dining/family room, the big man picked up a beanbag chair and placed it carefully onto Sam. It felt great – really great.

“Time to play hot dog!” the big man said with a smile and rolled the beanbag chair across Sam’s exposed body. Again, Sam did not know how long this actually lasted, but it could have lasted forever, because it felt so good.

The big man left after some time and went back into the kitchen and got a bowl of popcorn. “Well, there is some left. I removed all the burnt pieces.” He placed the bowl of popcorn in the middle of the coffee table. The beanbag chair covered Sam so that only his head was exposed. He really wanted some popcorn yet didn’t want to move to reach any. Yet after a while, the smell was too intoxicating, and a hand snaked out from under the beanbag chair to get at the popcorn. The big man brought the bowl right next to Sam’s hand, and Sam reached in and got a fistful.

The big man made sure that the beanbag chair stayed on Sam and didn’t slip off as he was reaching his fist to his mouth. Sam crunched down on the popcorn, listening intently to the sound the popcorn made as it was crunched in between his teeth. Fascinating!

“How do you feel, Nicholas?” the big man said. Sam’s mind didn’t register the question immediately; it heard the words but was too preoccupied with the sound of crunching popcorn. Sam’s eyes wandered everywhere, not focusing on any one thing for longer than five to ten seconds.

A hand came to Sam’s chin directing his head and vision to where he was looking directly at the big man.

“How are you feeling, Nicholas?” the big man asked very slowly.

Sam smiled, wanting to acknowledge the consideration of this man and that he felt good. Sam opened his mouth to speak. “French Toast.”

“Really?” the big man asked with a smile.

“French toast,” Sam replied back with a smile, with visions passing through his head of every time he had ever eaten French toast back on his boyhood farm in Indiana.

As the vision finally came to an end, he realized that the big man was talking to him again. “That’s great, buddy.”

Sam looked at the big man and smiled. Loudly in his head, he could hear his own thoughts saying, ‘OH BOY.’





Calavicci Quarters

Project Quantum Leap

Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico


Admiral Calavicci reclined in his favorite chair in his den, a half-smoked cigar in one hand and an empty brandy snifter in the other. His tie and collar were undone and his posture slouched as he stretched his legs as far as he could and kicked off his shoes. This had been one of those days that he dreaded, taken up by meetings with people who wanted to cut back funding for Quantum Leap or cut it all together. There always seemed to be a crisis on the horizon. Again, he battled impassioned today in front of all the top brass.  Again, he had laid it all on the line for his friend stuck in time. And again, he had gotten another reprieve, but it had taken a lot out of the Admiral. Depressing thoughts entered his mind, such as, what if one time (and it would only take once) his impassioned pleas for continued money didn’t work. What would happen to the Project? What would happen to Sam?

Resting his head back, the admiral closed his eyes and tried to focus solely on one happy thought. The thought came immediately: Elizabeth. God, he loved his wife. And then like a wish come true, he heard her.

“Hey Al, I thought I heard you come in.” Beth’s voice came from his left in the direction of the door. Al opened his eyes and spun his chair around to face her, dropping the snifter on to the floor upon glimpsing her. His wife stood before him wearing a white button down the front shirt, with a pleaded striped miniskirt that showed off gorgeously her long, smooth legs. Al hurriedly put down his cigar before he burned himself.

“Do you remember the last time I wore this kind of outfit?” Beth said in a very smooth voice and wicked smile.

“Oh, yeah. Right after I got my first commission,” Al said, a huge smile making its way on his face.

“Do you remember how we celebrated afterwards?” she said, making as wholesome and innocent an expression as she could.

Al smiled back at her, stood up and took a step to her, his arms parting to embrace his love when…

“Admiral, Dr. Beeks would like to speak with you,” the disembodied female voice of Ziggy announced.

Al rolled his eyes at the intrusion. But before he could speak, his wife did.

“Ziggy, I am right in the middle of trying to seduce my husband, can this wait?” she asked in a voice that had just a hint of agitation in it.

“I am sorry to interrupt your nocturnal pleasures, but Dr. Beeks is quite insistent and needs the Admiral on what she assures to be a most urgent matter,” Ziggy said in a haughty tone.

Al simply looked at his wife and gave out a large sigh. “I’m sorry, my love.” Beth reached out a hand and patted him on his chest.

He leaned over and pecked her on the forehead. “I will make it up to you,” he whispered.

“You’d better,” she whispered back with an understanding smile.

Reluctantly, Admiral Calavicci headed for his front door to make the walk to the north wing and the Quantum Leap Project. However, he walked with a smile. God, he loved his wife because of the little things she did. He hoped this would be quick and picked up his pace down the hallway.



        Dr. Verbena Beeks paced nervously just outside of the door of the Waiting Room. She held a clipboard in one hand and twirled a pen in the other. She was dressed conservatively; she had just changed into gym clothes, planning on going for a run at the end of her day, when she found out that Sam had leaped and there was someone new in the Waiting Room.

        She had not bothered to change but rushed straight over. She never wanted to leave anyone in the Waiting Room for too long. It was too disorienting to them. The room was a bit sterile and could be quite intimidating for someone who suddenly found them self there. She had been arguing for years to change it to some nice warm earth tones: make the room more soothing and the leapee would become more soothed. It seemed such an easy concept, but when it came to the government and getting money for such a conversion, nothing ever came easy or at all.

        Where was Al? How long did it take him to get here? There was one pretty scared little boy in there. She needed help to calm him.

        Al burst in through the door on the opposite side of the room.

        “Let’s make this quick, ’Bena,” Al announced, more than a little eager to get back to his quarters. He had straightened his collar and redone his tie – force of habit, really. You never looked disheveled in front of the troops. He was the leader no matter what.

        She thrust the clipboard into his stomach as soon as he was close enough and handed him a pen. “Sign here. Here. And here. Then initial there and again on page seven.”

        “What is all this?” Al asked as he sifted through the pages.

        “Authorization forms,” she repeated quickly.

        “For what?” Al asked, wondering just what this was as he looked at high-level clearance forms.

        “A specialist. For our leapee,” she replied.

        “What’s wrong?” Al asked as the warning alarms all went off in his mind.

        “The leapee in there is an eight-year-old special-needs child. He is an autistic boy named Nicholas,” Dr. Beeks said as she wringed out her hands after handing Al everything she had been holding to keep them busy.

        “I don’t know anything about autism,” Al said.

        “And I don’t know near enough. So you and I have to get a crash course and someone here who can make out what that little boy is trying to tell me. I didn’t understand a word,” Dr. Beeks said, deeply concerned. “I’ve already been in contact with them and they are willing to come on short notice.”

        “Is that what this requisition for a helicopter is for?” Al questioned.

        “Exactly; to get ’em here quick. It can be in the air 10 minutes after you sign that.” She pointed to the paper that the admiral was staring at.

        With another large sigh, he signed all the documents. So much for this being quick.





Nicholas’s apartment

Portland, Oregon


Moments later, Al walked into the Imaging Chamber with nothing more than the date where Sam was and that he was in an eight-year-old boy named Nicholas.

        ‘Sam was not going to like this,’ Al thought, as he stepped into a small, sparse apartment very neat and tidy.

        Sam sat next to the boy’s father, Al assumed, on the couch eating popcorn and drinking glasses of water.

        Sam had no reaction upon hearing the all-too-familiar whooshing sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening, but the light that he saw as Al walked out was nearly blinding. Instinctively, his hands flew up to his eyes to cover them from the brightness of the light. Unconsciously, Sam let out a small whining sound. The big man shot him a glance.

        “Is it too bright in here, buddy?” he said, not looking at him for an answer and standing up halfway through his question to go pull the shades on the window.

        At about the same time the Chamber doors closed, the big man had drawn the shades and Nicholas pulled his hands down from his eyes.

        “Better?” the big man asked.

        Sam did not respond but wanted to. He was having an awful time trying to focus. As quick as the idea came to say he was better, it had left his head as another thought intruded. Who was the man dressed in white? And then another thought came. Again it went away, crowded out by yet another thought, and then the man in white spoke.

        “Sam, I am afraid we don’t know much. You’re in a young boy named Nicholas and he is autistic. It’s November, 1989, and you’re in Portland, Oregon.” Al walked over to the wall and stuck his head through it. “And it’s raining; pretty typical for here. They get over 200 days of rain a year. Pretty different from the desert, isn’t it?” Al said with a smile.

        Sam stared at the man in white as he put his head into the wall. Suddenly this became the funniest thing he had ever seen in his life. Sam burst out laughing to the surprise of both Al and the big man.

        Sam laughed and laughed, nearly falling into a fit of hysteria.

        “Sam?” Al reacted in shock.

        “Buddy, what’s so funny?” the big man asked, smiling.

        Sam pointed at Al. “Man in white. No head. French Toast.” And Sam burst into another stretch of laughter.

        “Sam!” Al said, shocked that Sam had just pointed him out.

        The big man looked around the apartment and stared hard at the place his son had just pointed out to him. He wondered what had triggered that, knowing it could have very easily been something his son had seen hours or even days ago somewhere else entirely.

        His father just shook his head. “I wish I was in on it. It must be a real humdinger.” He tasseled the boy’s hair and began gathering up the dirty dishes. Before he left for the kitchen, he put himself in the direct line of sight of his son’s far-off gaze. “Nicholas, I am going to go and wash up these dishes. It is okay for you to sit there while I do that, or you can do puzzles.” He pantomimed every action as he spoke. He picked up the dirty dishes and went to the kitchen.

        “Oh good, we have a moment,” Al began, yet Sam seemed to ignore him like he was just another piece of furniture. “Have you been able to find out anything here?”

Sam stared as much as he could at Al, focusing on the middle of his suit and all the pretty gold buttons. Sam bet they felt cold. He tried to reach for them, but his hand kept missing as it passed straight through the hologram.

        “Sam, what are you doing? Sam, what are you doing?” Al said as he backed up away from Sam. Yet as he backed up, Sam kept trying to get closer to him, reaching for him.

        “Sam, stop fooling around. We have got to figure out why you are here. And we can’t do that before we know who everyone is,” Al said. Sam kept coming forward, and the thought of butterflies came to his mind. It was a very pleasant and calming thought that made Sam smile.

        “Lofty, can he hear me? Is this thing working? Lofty!” Al yelled as he beat on the handlink.

        Sam smiled as he watched the gold buttons float in the air, which reminded him of chasing butterflies, which went on to remind him of Winnie the Pooh who was always chasing butterflies.

        The big man came out of the kitchen, his hands dripping wet.

        “What cha’ doing, buddy?” he asked.

        “Pooh,” Sam happily responded.

        Nicholas’s father simply nodded. Nicholas looked like he was having a good time. He didn’t think he could hurt himself.

        “Okay buddy, I will be done in just a few minutes.  Then it’s going to be bath time, books, and bed.”

        “Willow?” Sam stopped and asked.

        “Sure buddy. I’ll read you Think of Something Happy Before You Go to Sleep.”

        “Willow. Willow,” Sam repeated. ‘What was going on here?’ Sam could not control his thoughts at all. There were so many things he wanted to ask Al but couldn’t. How was he ever going to get through this leap?

        Nicholas’s father went back into the kitchen to finish the dishes.

        Sam got control enough to stop chasing Al’s gold buttons.

        ‘Focus, focus, focus, focus,’ Sam chanted in his head as he tried to concentrate on Al.

        Al was confused beyond belief. Sam had yet to acknowledge him here. And with so little information, he needed Sam more than ever to help him piece enough together to get Ziggy to start running some contingencies.

        “Sam, can you hear me?” Al asked as he looked down at Sam.

        “Al,” Sam replied quietly.

        “Good, Sam, good. Yes, it’s me. Can you tell me anything?” Al asked.

        “Al,” Sam replied. He felt so frustrated he couldn’t get the words out.  He wanted to tell Al this, but he couldn’t. It was so hard to focus, to keep his vision on Al, and he couldn’t look him in the eyes for some reason – it hurt. Not like the alarm had, but his eyes stung when he looked at Al. So again, he tried to focus on his shirt.

Sam’s mouth went open and shut, open and shut. He looked like a bass. Al could see his best friend struggle to talk to him, but something was preventing him. He could read the frustration in his eyes.

“It’s okay, Sam. It’s okay. I am going to look around and see what I can find out,” Al replied and began to gaze around the apartment. On a table near the front door was a wallet. “Perfect. Sam, come over here and flip open this wallet. Sam. Yoo-hoo. Sam,” Al said. Sam had wandered off to the middle of the room to pull out a puzzle from the closet. Sam looked over at Al.

“Sam, wallet.”

        Sam slowly walked over to the table and touched the wallet; it didn’t feel prickly or soft. It felt rougher; the feeling wasn’t so bad though. Sam opened the wallet.

        “There’s his license, Sam. Pull that out. Pull it out far enough so I can read it,” Al encouraged Sam, as he reached into the wallet and pulled at the small plastic card that the hologram was pointing to. Sam didn’t like the smooth plastic feel of the card and dropped it instantly. Luckily for Al, it landed face-up on the ground.

        “Hot,” Sam said, placing three of his fingers into his mouth.

        Al read the license. “David Busak, 35. Well, I guess that must make you Nicholas Busak.” He typed in the address on the license and the license number into the handlink, which sent if off straight to Ziggy.

        “Okay Sam, this is enough to get us started.  I promise to be back soon.” With that, Al punched a couple of colors on the handlink that activated the Chamber door. Sam’s hands flew to his face to cover his eyes. He let out a small scream. The light hurt him. David Busak rushed from the kitchen to see his son covering his eyes. The chamber door shut.

        “What’s wrong, son?” he asked concerned.

        “Man in white walk white light,” Sam said, the words making perfect sense to him.

        Nicholas’s father just shook his head, a tear rolling down his face. “Oh buddy, I wish I knew what you were trying to tell me.”





Control Room

Project Quantum Leap


        Al stepped out of the Imaging Chamber feeling frustrated. He had not been able to talk to Sam whatsoever. And Sam seemed to be genuinely trying to communicate with him, but still he had not been able to understand him. What was he to do?

        “When will the specialist be here?” Al questioned Dom.

        “They’re on their way, Admiral. Within the next half hour or so,” Dom replied.

        “I'm heading into the Waiting Room,” Al announced.

        “Do you think that’s wise, Admiral?” Dom asked the Admiral.

        “What do you mean?” Al responded.

        “Dr. Beeks is already in there; too many people may scare the visitor,” Dom replied.

        Al rubbed his chin as he thought about it. “I’ll just peek my head in and see how it's going,” he said as he strolled over to the Waiting Room.

        Looking into the Waiting Room, Al saw a sight he had never seen before. Dr. Beeks sat in a chair, her clipboard in her lap, a tape recorder next to her, and Nicholas was against the wall doing a handstand.

        He fell to the ground when Al walked in. Dr. Beeks, still dressed in her gym clothes, snapped her thumb down on a stopwatch she had in her hand.

        “I always wanted to do that. Hi there,” the boy in Sam's aura said to Al as he stood up and began bouncing on the front of his feet.   “Did I make it? Did I do it for five minutes?” Nicholas asked excitedly.

        Verbena looked at her stopwatch. “Six minutes and 37 seconds.”

        “Wow, that must be some sort of record, right?” Nicholas said very excitedly.

        “That was wonderful, Nicholas,” Verbena said, putting down her stopwatch and clapping. Nicholas took a small bow.

        “When can I leave this room and go out and play?” Nicholas asked eagerly as he bounced up and down.

        “Nicholas, this is Al,” Dr. Beeks said, avoiding the question.

        Al nodded and stuck out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.” Nicholas looked down at Al’s hand for a long time before taking both his hands and rubbing them against his pants. After an awkward moment, Al placed his arm back down to his side.

        “Nicholas, are you hungry? Can I get you anything?” Verbena asked.

        Nicholas’s eyes grew wide. “Can I eat anything I want?” he asked.

        “As long as we have it in the cafeteria,” Verbena said.

        “Can I get a hamburger– no, a cheeseburger with fries,” Nicholas said, barely containing his glee.

        “I’m sure we can get that for you,” Verbena said. Nicholas’s smile simply glowed upon hearing that. “I will be right back with that.”

        “Okay,” Nicholas said as he readied himself for another handstand.

        Dr. Beeks gripped Al by the upper arm and dragged him out of the Waiting Room with her.

        Once the soundproof door shut behind her, Al spoke. “I was going to ask him a few questions,” he said, taking some offense that he was pulled from the room without being asked first.

        “I know, I didn’t want you to,” she said matter-of-factly. “I think it would confuse him even more.”

        “It doesn’t seem that there is much wrong with him. I think we can get a lot of information out of him about Sam’s situation,” Al said.

        “I know; that is what concerns me so,” Verbena said. “He is showing almost no signs of autism there in the Waiting Room.”

        “Isn’t that good?” Al said, a bit confused by where this was going. Beeks walked a steady pace to the Control Room.

        “Yes, absolutely, for Nicholas. Not for Sam. If Nicholas is not showing any signs, then Sam must be showing them,” Verbena said.

        Al nodded, understanding now.

        “So why is that?” Al asked. Verbena was already shaking her head before he completed his question.

        “Did you get some information out of him?” Dom asked when they entered. Verbena handed over her clipboard. “Thanks,” replied Dom as he quickly began to type in the information straight into Ziggy’s database.

        “So what information did you get?” Al asked.

        “Admiral, Dr. Beeks, your specialist is here and being shown to the north conference room.”

        “Thank you, Ziggy. We are on our way,” Al responded to Ziggy’s curt voice. “Tell me on the way.”

        Al and Verbena walked out of the Control Room and headed down the hallway to the conference center. They both walked a brisk pace down the hallway. Both were eager to hear from the specialist.

        “David Busak and his wife Karen Wilkes are divorced,” Verbena began.

        Al picked up on that quickly. “So is Sam here to get them back together?” he said rhetorically.

        Dr. Beeks began to shake her head, although this did not dissuade Al from continuing on.

        “Ziggy, what is the chance that…” Al started before Ziggy interrupted.

        “27.6%, Admiral. I overheard your talk and ran the probability,” Ziggy said.

        “Why so low?” Al asked disappointed.

        “Al, 90% of couples divorce if they have a child with special needs. The challenges of raising that kind of child are often extreme. The couple lose themselves in those challenges. They live lives of high stress and usually are unable to get a break from their child since there is usually not someone else to take care of the child. Hard feelings of guilt and blame riddle these poor people and most begin fighting with each other. Even if Sam could bring this couple back together again, the chances are they would never stay together. The stresses would all come back, because the situation would not change.”

        “So is his mother in the picture?” Al asked.

        “Yes, their current arrangement is one week on and one week off,” Verbena replied.

        “So tell me about this specialist?” asked Al, wishing he had a notepad and pen to make some notes.

        “Her name is Temple Grandin. She has two doctorates: one in animal husbandry and the other in cattle engineering,” Verbena said, as if this was the most logical thing in the world.

        “What?” Al asked, hearing what he thought was absolutely absurd.

        “She’s autistic. She has written many books on growing up and being autistic. She is the foremost expert in the field. Most autistic people have a natural interest – almost obsession, really – in one particular area. Hers happens to be cows.”

        “Oh this should be interesting,” Al said somewhat skeptically as they arrived at the North Conference room.



Entering the conference room, Al was struck at how odd Ms. Grandin appeared. Her clothes were wrinkled and badly clashed, her hair was messed up, and her glasses lay crooked on her face. When they entered the room, she stared completely at the table, never looking up. She would remain in this pose; nearly stiff as a board for the entire time she remained in the conference center.

After introductions were made, Dr. Beeks led off the conversation. She and Al took turns updating her on the situation with Dr. Samuel Beckett and a general overview of Project Quantum Leap. Ms. Grandin, for her part, listened with incredible intensity, and although Al could see her face quite clearly, she never once glanced up at him. She did shudder involuntarily, he thought, at a few things that were said, especially when they described how Dr. Beckett came to possess another human body other than his own. This, Al seemed to think, caused her great concern or great discomfort. He thought it was more the latter.

“Autism affects the brain. Autism is a mystery. It is a puzzle. There is no cure and no one knows how people get it. Most of the time, the body has large amounts of mercury, lead, or other minerals.  It is believed that this plays a part in autism. There is a genetic factor that is also involved, although there is no gene identified as the culprit. There is certainly heredity involved, for if an autistic person has a child, odds are near 80% that that child will be autistic. It affects boys much more than girls to a factor of 9 to 1,” Temple Grandin poured out in small clipped tones, answering a question that was not asked.

“How does it affect the brain?” Verbena asked, pressing her face to the table to try to catch her eyes. Ms. Grandin bent her head down and stared even harder at the grains of the oak table.

“Autistic people cannot look a person in the eye. It hurts,” she said. Al noticed that she didn’t refer to herself, although she was clearly talking about herself.

Verbena sat up straight in her chair.

“It is like mercury poisoning,” Temple said in a clipped tone. “Al, that’s it,” Verbena turned to Al and said.

“What’s it?” Al asked not really listening so much as watching this fascinating woman that sat across from him.

“That’s what’s happening to Sam,” Verbena said excitedly.

“I don’t get it,” Al returned quite earnestly.

“The two of them have clearly magnafluxed to the point that Sam is retaining Nicholas’s brain impulses and Nicholas is retaining Sam’s. So Sam must now struggle with a brain that is acting like it is poisoned.”

Al’s thoughts instantly jumped to Jimmy, one of his favorite people that Sam had leaped into.

“We’ve seen something like this before,” he said out loud.

“Yes. Wow, it must be so liberating to Nicholas. This is the first time in his life where he has had a clean body and mind to be in.” Verbena sat back, her face revealing a growing concern in her mind.

Al smiled as he thought back to Nicholas doing the handstands. 

“Why can’t I communicate with Sam?” Al asked the most important question in his mind.

“The part of the brain most affected through autism is that of the communication centers. It is very possible he is incapable of speaking,” Temple Grandin explained.

“No. I hear him speak. He can speak. I don’t understand what he is saying, but he is speaking,” Al stated.

“He speaks in associations,” Ms. Grandin replied. “He referred to French Toast as an answer. In his mind, French toast means happiness. He was happy the last time he had French toast. And so he has made that association as a state of mind. When I was a child, I used to rub chocolate pudding all over my face. I loved the feel of it on my skin but hated the feel of it in my mouth; it stung me. Every time I wanted my father to do face painting, I called it chocolate pudding.

“It is important to understand that autistic people think in pictures,” Temple Grandin paused. Both Al and Verbena looked at each other quizzically before she continued. “If you mention church, an autistic person will think of every image of church that they have ever seen. This starts a loop in their mind that may take seconds or minutes. Of course, they will lose any thing else that is going on with the conversation during that time. And then they may come back and hear a word that sends them off to other images of a dog or whatever.”

“So is it best to be as visual as possible when speaking?” Verbena asked as she wrote down copious notes onto her note pad.

Ms. Grandin nodded slowly, still looking at the table.

“Ziggy, are you getting all this?” Al asked into the room.

“Yes, Admiral.” The disembodied voice of Ziggy spoke in a tone that implied that she knew what her duty was and was doing it.

“Try some contingencies with these new perimeters. Also, let’s see if we can figure out a visual system for me to communicate with Sam,” Al talked into the air.

“Yes, Admiral,” Ziggy responded.

“There is much more I would like to know,” Verbena spoke up as she saw that Al was preparing to leave.

“Please feel free. I want to get back to the Control Room and go over with Dom some new programs to get started with,” Al said, feeling the anxiety that he always did at being away from Sam for a good length of time. He stood up to leave.

“The little things can be most important,” Ms. Grandin volunteered.

“It was nice to meet you,” Al said, this time not extending his hand.

“It wasn’t nice meeting you. It was uncomfortable. Your suit is too bright,” Ms. Grandin said.

Al simply nodded and left the conference room.





        As he raced back to the Control Room, Al hoped that Dom had his handlink uploaded. He was eager to try and get back to speak with Sam. He was sure now that he would be able to have much better success.

        “Lofty, do you have…?” Al never finished his question before Dom interrupted him.

        “Thank God, you’re here,” Dom said in great relief.

        Al looked at him questioningly.

        “We’ve had some problems with the boy in the Waiting Room. I called Sammy Jo since both you and Dr. Beeks were in the conference. I think you should go in there immediately,” Dom replied.

        Al went into the Waiting Room directly and walked in on a heated conversation in process.

        “I don’t want to go back,” Nicholas insisted, as Al found him and Sammy Jo in the midst of a stare-down contest. Neither of them had the distinct advantage yet.

        “Why not?” Sammy Jo asked, clearly agitated by the way the conversation had been going. Nicholas did not want to go back, and if he did not go back, what would happen to her father? She did not recall a situation where the person in the Waiting Room had not wanted to go back. Normally, they were complaining about not getting back soon enough. What were they going to do now?

        “I have never felt this way before. I can speak. I can say the actual words that I am thinking. It makes me feel sad that I can’t do the things that the other kids can do. It makes me feel sad every day.” Nicholas clutched his fist to his heart. “I don’t want to go back to where the kids make fun at me. I don’t want to go back to where I can’t do the things I want to or play the games I like, or even try new things. I don’t want to go back to where the kids are mean to me. They make me cry.”

        Al could feel the words of pain that sprang from Nicholas’s mouth. It hurt to hear them, especially since he had seen Nicholas, or at least how he was through his earlier visitation with Sam.

        “I understand that you have difficult feelings about your life. It is nice to hear you express your feelings. But you must understand…” Sammy Jo started to explain again the importance of him going back. Al placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her.

        “This must be like a sort of freedom for you,” Al said.

        Nicholas looked at him sadly. “I can do more. It’s the little things I get to do, like handstands,” he said simply. “I feel different and I like it. You’re not going to make me go back if I don’t want to?”

        Al swallowed hard. “You may want to think about what will happen if you stay. First, you will be in that body, not your own. You will never be able to see your mom and dad again. I want to be honest with you, Nicholas. My job, essentially, is to do everything I can to put you back where you belong – back in your time. I will certainly listen to you if you do not want to go back. I may be able to help you and I may not. You need to understand this. You only get to make this decision once. I will never be able to put you back if we don’t do it now. So if you stay and you don’t like it here, you will never be able to go back. I just won’t be able to do it. Essentially, you will be trapped here, in that body, as much as you are trapped back in your old one.”

        Nicholas stared at the soldier, letting everything he heard wash into him.

        Sammy Jo stared up at Al, her eyes clearly asking him what he was doing and if he was seriously contemplating letting the boy stay. Al squeezed her shoulder a little harder, hoping that it was a silent expression of reassurance.

        “Think about it hard, Nicholas. I will come back and talk to you later,” Al said, realizing now that it was a good time for a tactical retreat.

        “Sammy Jo can stay and help you talk anything through,” he said, looking at Sammy Jo.

        “I would be happy to,” she said, nodding and smiling at Nicholas.

        Nicholas also nodded, acknowledging that he would like that.

        “I will have Tina bring in some drinks for you,” Al said. Leaning over, he whispered into Sammy Jo’s ear, “Don’t press him. Let him talk and say anything he wants. Let him come to his own decision. The more you try to guide him, the more he is going to resist.”

        “But what if he chooses to stay?” she whispered back.

        “Let’s cross that bridge if we get to it,” Al said, hoping that they would never get to it.

        With that, he smiled and excused himself from the room and walked back into the Control Room.



        “Lofty. Tell me about Nicholas. What happens to him?” Al asked as he walked up to the main control console that Dom was standing behind.

        Dom typed furiously into his console. “Nicholas regresses when he gets to his teens to the point that neither parent is able to cope with all his needs at home. He moves into a group home where he lives for the next 12 years before dying of pneumonia.”

        Al was saddened to hear that quick synopsis. “Is that it? Does he get better? Does he change from what I saw in the Imaging Chamber earlier?” Al asked more fervently than before.

        Dom hesitated before answering as he tried to decipher what Ziggy was giving him. The problem was that the question called for a qualitative answer rather than quantitative. Does he get better? Compared to what standard? Dom answered as best as he could.

        “He improves some. But when he reaches his teens, he regresses to a condition worse than what you have seen,” Dom answered hesitantly.

        Al stood there lost in his own thoughts. It didn’t sound like such a wonderful life.

“Is he happy? Is he ever happy?” Al asked hopefully.

Dom frowned upon hearing the question but typed furiously to try to get an answer – any answer.

“I don’t know,” Dom said, shaking his head slowly.

“Ziggy?” Al questioned, appealing to the computer entity.

“He has his moments when he is happy, Admiral,” Ziggy responded.

“Does he have many moments?” Al asked.

“A couple each day,” Ziggy coldly responded.

Al’s heart was breaking. He did not know if he was going to have the strength to make Nicholas go back. Yet if he didn’t, what would happen to Sam? If he did, it would be hard to live with himself, knowing that he sent Nicholas to a life that was worse.

“What happens to his dad?” Al asked.

Al knew he wasn’t going to like this either, as he saw the frown form across Dom’s face.

Dom hesitated again before responding, wishing secretly that he wasn’t always giving the Admiral bad news.

“Six months from now, David Busak begins counseling for chronic depression. Over the years, he slowly gets more distant with Nicholas so that when Nicholas does regress in his teens, David gives up. He becomes a drunk and dies of heart disease when he reaches 52.”

        “Okay. Try to get his medical records and counseling session tapes, manuscripts, or whatever there is,” Al said, suspecting he already knew what he would find. With a son in that condition, how would one not be depressed? Al realized how lucky he was to have the girls he did. He would make sure to call each one of them as soon as this was over and tell them again how much he loved them.

        “Ziggy, is there anything you can recommend? Is Sam here to help Nicholas, or is he here to help his father?” Al asked.

        “We haven’t checked on the mother yet,” suggested Dom. 

        However, Al was shaking his head. “I thought about that. If we were here for her, I would have expected Sam to leap into Nicholas on the week she would have him. I am convinced it has to be about Nicholas or his father.”

        “I compute a 67.8% chance that we are here to help Nicholas. And a 68.7% chance we are here to help his father,” Ziggy said impassionedly.

        “They’re so close. What suggestions can you make?” Al asked.

        “None, Admiral. Nothing seems to make any significant difference to their lives,” Ziggy announced.

        “Keep working on it,” Al said. “I need to go check on Sam.”

        Al grabbed his handlink and walked into the Imaging Chamber.





        Sam had never been more frustrated. He sat in a bed wearing Spider-Man pajamas and feeling clean. He had been trying to talk to the big man ever since Al left, trying to figure out what was going on. Yet his brain seemed to have him tongue-tied. It seemed to be playing endless topical movies, all about the baths he took, every duck he had ever seen, and so forth. It was impossible for him to focus on anything for any length of time. Every time he tried to say something, the strangest words came out of his mouth. Words he seemed to have no control over that made no sense to him or the big man, yet somewhere in his mind, they felt right and logical to say.

        What was he doing here?

        Why was he here?

        What was he supposed to do?

        How in the world was he going to do it?

        Sam sat stiff as a board and waited. The big man said he would be right back.

        Al walked out of the Imaging Chamber door. “There you are, Sam. Nice PJ’s,” Al said with a mischievous, boyish smile on his face. Sam looked at him, his eyes locked up in some sort of inner struggle.

        “Can you hear me, Sam?” Al asked. “Don’t try and talk, just concentrate on moving your head.”

        Sam slowly nodded.

        “Good, Sam. Good. Try to focus on just one thing,” Al said, trying to use a very monotone voice.

        He consulted his handlink, which was getting a new wave of information from Verbena and her further discussions with Ms. Grandin.

        “We don’t know why you are here. I’m sorry, Sam. Do you have any ideas?” Al looked closely at Sam, who was looking over his shoulder instead of directly at him.

        Sam slowly and with great effort shook his head.

        “Okay,” Al answered, trying not to show emotion. That was part of the new information he was getting. No big movements, completely calm in the face of everything, no outward showing of emotion. Al went with it without question.

        Sam wanted to scream at Al. Get him to do something.

        “Where is dad?” Al asked, consulting his watch. He had been here several minutes and had yet to see him. “Be right back, Sam. Lofty, center me in on David Busak.”

        In the blink of an eye, Al was standing in the kitchen, not seeing David but hearing him sob.

        David Busak sat on the kitchen floor, a wooden tray next to him with a glass of water and a fistful of pills on it. He cried into both of his hands.

        “What can I do?” David asked the kitchen hoping it would give an answer to him.

        Al pointed to himself and looked around, wondering if he could be seen or whom David could be talking to.

        “Does he even know that I am here?” David asked the glass of water he was looking at.  Al knew that he was just talking to himself at that point. Al wished he could say something. It was frustrating not to be able to lend some kind, understanding words to this poor man, whose heart seemed to be flopping on the floor next to him.

        “Is this the best it will ever be? Will he ever recognize me? Will he ever call me dad?” David sobbed for a couple more minutes, a certain level of his pain and anguish releasing him for a moment, until its eventual buildup again. He needed these times to cry – to release a part of his tension, although he was needing them more and more, and he was getting more and more caught up in feelings of helplessness and despair.

        He only wanted the best for his son – just the best. To make his life happy and worth living, for whatever that meant for his son. David Busak was beginning to lose hope that he would ever be able to get his son to that point.

        Al felt increasingly uncomfortable standing there, watching this man go through his personal agony on the kitchen floor. It was such a private and intimate moment that Al felt the entirety of his voyeur existence as the Observer. It was a heavy weight on his shoulders. He turned his back towards David as he saw him trying to regain his composure.

        As David picked up the tray after drying his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt and making his way to his son’s bedroom, a few pieces of a puzzle fell into place for Al. He punched a finger at the handlink, the door whooshed open and he stepped through.



        Al walked directly into the Waiting Room. Both Nicholas and Sammy Jo were there, sitting stretched out on the floor. They seemed to be taking a break from talking and drinking from their glasses.

        “Hi, Al,” Sammy Jo said in a much more relaxed voice than she had had the last time he was here.

        “Sammy,” Al replied, although he was looking directly at Nicholas now. He was the person that he had come to see.

        “Aren’t my parents still alive at this time?” Nicholas asked Al abruptly.

Al nodded. “They are.”

        “So I could see them,” Nicholas said with an air of defiance.

        “Yes, you could see them. But remember, they would not see you as Nicholas,” Al said as he pointed to the table’s reflection which showed Nicholas his mirror image of Dr. Sam Beckett.

        “But I could tell them all about it,” Nicholas said.

        “Oh yes, you certainly could. However, it would be a tough sell. Most likely, they would not believe you. Sam would be in your body, they would still have Nicholas. They would find it hard to believe that this 50-ish year old doctor was actually their son,” Al said. He hated to be this blunt with the boy, but he did not want to sugar coat this at all. Nicholas had a tough decision to make, and neither path he could choose was without its pitfalls.

        A tear came running down Nicholas’s cheek, followed by another one. “I would really miss them,” Nicholas said through his sadness.

        “We’ve been talking a lot about the pros and cons,” Sammy Jo spoke up. “Missing his folks is a big thing.”

        “Yeah, Sammy Jo was telling me how much she misses her father, too,” replied Nicholas, feeling a connection between both of them.

        Al noticed that Sammy Jo’s eyes were starting to glisten. Nicholas went over and hugged her.

        “This feels so good. I wish it felt good in my own body. I would so like to give my mom and dad hugs. It is just that, well, I don’t like to be touched in my own body. It causes too many thoughts to go through my head, and the touch doesn’t feel nice.” Nicholas released Sammy Jo from the hug; she now had tears in her eyes.

        Al was struggling to keep his own composure. With all the exposed feelings in here, it was hard for him not to grab them both and hug them – to share with them his love for his wife and his own children. But sadly for Al, there always seemed a good reason not to. He was in charge and in the midst of a leap. Someone had to keep his or her composure and keep everything on track. Ultimately, that responsibility fell squarely on his shoulders. Al sighed, wishing sometimes that things were different. But they weren’t.

        “Well Nicholas…?” Al asked, not finishing the question but rather leaving it out in the air to hang.

        Nicholas looked at Al and then at Sammy Jo. The silence extended. “I will go back,” he said at last. “But please come and visit me,” Nicholas said to Sammy Jo.

        “I will,” she replied, her voice quivering with emotion.

        Al let out a long breath.

        “I just wish…” Nicholas said out loud.

        “What do you wish, Nicholas?” Sammy Jo asked.

        “I just wish things could be different,” Nicholas said sadly.

        “If you could just make one thing different, what would it be?” Sammy Jo inquired.

        “I would like to tell my dad I love him. I have never been able to, and he works so hard to help me with everything,” Nicholas said with tears streaming down his face.

        Al smiled. “It’s the little things that matter.”

        Nicholas nodded.  Al opened his arms and embraced him. Whispering in his ear, “I have an idea that might allow you to do just that.  You game to try?”

        Again, Nicholas nodded.



        Al stood out in the Control Room facing Dom. “We’re going to try and orchestrate this one a little bit. I want you to focus Nicholas back into Nicholas,” Al said to him.

        Dom looked at him quizzically. “Won’t that put the two of them in there together at the same time?”

        “That’s what I am hoping,” said Al, more confidently than he felt. “We have done something like this before with a rape victim.”

        “We have?” Dom looked at the Admiral, puzzled.

        “Well, actually, it was with your first predecessor, Gooshie,” Al said somewhat sheepishly. Sometimes he really did miss that little bad-breathed guy. He liked Lofton well enough, but Gooshie had been there since the beginning.

        “So, what is the plan?” Dom asked.

        “Just make this work,” Al said and walked into the Imaging Chamber. “And get me to Sam.”



        Sam sat, drinking down the myriad of pills he had to swallow.

        “All right buddy, let me get rid of this tray and I will read you stories,” the big man said as cheerfully as possible. However, his face looked flush and his eyes were bloodshot.

        The big man picked up the tray and headed out of Nicholas’s bedroom to return it back to the kitchen.

        Sam sat bolt upright in bed waiting.

        With the whooshing sound, Sam’s hands jumped up to cover his eyes. The man wearing white must have been returning.

        “Sam, good, you’re alone… probably not for long though. I better make this quick. I want you to focus on one thing, Sam, okay? Nod if you can hear me?” Al said.

        Sam nodded slowly and did not drop his hands from his eyes.

        “Focus on the phrase, ‘I love you,’” Al said.

        Sam dropped his hands away and stared over Al’s shoulder.

        “David Busak has never heard his son say those words to him. I think this leap is about him and Nicholas. Lofty, what does Ziggy say about being here for both of them?” Al looked down at the handlink. “96.4%. This is it, Sam, trust me.”

        Nicholas’s father came in and sat down beside him on the bed. Al stepped back and tried to hide himself in the room. He had to watch, to make sure, yet he didn’t want to be any kind of distraction either. He typed in something into the handlink that told Dom to try it. He hoped this was going to work. David Busak pulled out a book and began to read it.

        As Sam listened, he repeated slowly in his mind, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’

        And then something strange happened. Sam heard more than one voice repeating the words ‘I love you.’ The two voices became like one, and the chant began.

        “…and Willow fell fast asleep. The end,” David Busak finished, putting the book in his lap. “Would you like me to read it to you again?”

        “I love you,” Nicholas said.

        David Busak looked like a Mack truck had just hit him full on. “What, buddy?” he asked, questioning himself that he even heard his son say anything at all just then.

        “I love you,” Nicholas repeated.

        “Oh, Nicholas,” he said, tears streaming down his face, as he grabbed the boy and gave him a big bear hug. “I love you so much.”

        Al watched through the cracked-open Imaging Chamber door. A tear rolled down his own cheek. Nicholas lifted two arms and very gently placed them around his father, his best effort at returning the hug.

        At that moment, David Busak was filled with a new deep hope for his son.

        Sam turned blue and leaped. The holographic world around Al went blank. All Al saw now was the off-white walls of the Imaging Chamber.

        “Lofty, what happens to David and Nicholas now?” Al asked as he stared down at the handlink for the response.

        Nicholas does much better. Although he does regress in his teens, it is not permanent. He goes on to live a life on his own, in a house very close to his father’s. David Busak continues to have hope and re-devotes himself to his son.

        After reading the message, he took one last long, deep breath and stepped back through the Imaging Chamber door.





   The blue haze dissipated, leaving Dr. Sam Beckett to find the lens of a giant video camera staring him in the face.  His eyes widened in alarm as he leaned even closer to the circular black object hovering a few feet away from him.  Behind the camera, the young man who was squatting on his knee holding it on his shoulders took his eye away from the viewfinder, giving Sam a look that he was expecting something from the Leaper.

     Clearing his throat, Sam looked over to his right.  A man in a brown suit was seated next to him, holding a microphone in Sam’s direction.  The dressed-up reporter was also giving Sam a look of bafflement.  Behind the reporter, Sam noticed a dugout.

     Suddenly, a bright ray of sunshine broke through the clouds up above, forcing Sam to pull the brim of the cap on his head lower.  Averting his eyes, he looked down from the brilliance of the sun and the now annoyed looks on the faces of the people around him.  It didn’t take the Leaper long to realize he was seated in a folding chair and that he was wearing a brightly colored teal jersey and white pants with teal pinstripes.  Before him on the grass, stretched a long line of white chalk heading behind the cameraman towards a backstop.

     “Um,” Sam muttered, clearing his throat, banging his cleats against the chair.  “Could you repeat the question please?”

     “Sure, Mark.  I guess it’s been awhile and you’re not used to these interviews anymore.  It has been at least five years since you were hounded by all the press.”  The reporter turned to the cameraman who by now was looking a bit uncomfortable balancing on his knee with the big camcorder on his shoulder.  “When we get back to the studios just edit out the last few minutes.  Use some of that filler B-roll footage we shot of the practice earlier to cover up the long pause.” 

     The cameraman nodded as the reporter turned back towards Sam.  “OK, Mark, I’ll ask the question again, just take a deep breath and just let your answer come out naturally.” After a pause, “Can you tell us your first reaction on trying to make a comeback in the major leagues after battling injuries and being away from the game for so long?”

     Sam found the microphone back in his face again.  This time, Sam noticed the microphone had the letters ESPN labeled on it.  As he opened his mouth to make up a reply, a hand whipped around from behind and slammed a paper plate full of shaving cream into his face.  Sam’s eyes smarted as the plate fell from his face to the ground.  People had gathered around, laughing at the Leaper’s plight.  A big glob of shaving cream fell from his lips as he turned to the camera and sputtered, “Ohh, boy…”



Email the Author