Following a lightning strike that causes his nervous system to go haywire, Frank is left unable to touch another living thing. Though resigned to being a lonely freak, he ever hopes that someone, somewhere, might love him.
But his life goes from bad to worse when someone does ...
The Beatles had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show just two months prior. The country was still on edge, over a year and a half after the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy. NASA was promising a manned launch into space in the spring, and race and politics were on everyone's mind. America was entering a new modern age amidst a feeling of civil unrest.
Frank Stone felt unsettled as well. The world he saw on TV and read about in the daily paper seemed far removed from his day-to-day existence. He fancied himself more like a character plucked out of a five-hundred- page gothic novel and dropped into the 1960s rather than a twenty-four-year-old man raised in upstate New York. He even spoke that way at times, and often shunned the rest of the world for the woods.
Loneliness enveloped Frank like the late-evening summer fog. A house long gone used to occupy the spot where he sat in his work pants, an undershirt, and bare feet. The woods had taken the Stone family property back over time. Where there once was mowed grass and spring and summer flowers, now there were thorny, twisted brambles, uncontrolled brush, and exposed roots. Where several single trees once stood, now there were a dozen more crowded between them, trying to catch up to the older ones' height and girth.
Frank still owned the once-cleared acre, though now neither he nor anyone else could tell where it ended and the woods began. The small red-and-silver trailer he currently called home -- and had since he'd burned down the family house at age nine -- would look to strangers as if it had been dropped in the middle of nowhere, perhaps by a twister, like Dorothy's in The Wizard of Oz.
Frank looked skyward, pushing his black-framed glasses up his pointy nose. "Ash, Maple, Oak ..." Long legs outstretched, his lanky torso lounged against a large root. His white cotton shirt, damp and dirty from a hard day, lay in a ball beside him as he pointed up, identifying aloud each genus comprising the canopy above for anyone who may have been listening.
No one was.
Frank's mother had left the family long before the fire, back when Frank was only four. His father, Franklin Stone, Sr., had perished from cancer bit by bit, then completely and for good the first year Frank had been away at college, back in 1959. Six years later, Frank still missed him terribly. Frank had no children, no spouse, or loving partner.
"Of course I have no one." He touched his cheek. "Who would be so blind as to want me?"
He had always dreamed of becoming a teacher, a hope that was virtually dashed by one of his whilst still in grade school.
"I have been asked to send some volunteers over to the second grade classes to tutor." Mrs. Bollow chose three, passing over Frank, even though he had the best grades among his peers and his hand had shot up first.
"I'm afraid the children would be frightened by your appearance." Mrs. Bollow had held him after the bell to tell him so. Perhaps she had always been put off herself.
So some days Frank playacted the fauna were his pupils, but that day every branch, every dangling leaf was dead still. The creatures were gone -- fled. There were no chirping birds, no squirrels bounding like acrobats from limb to limb, not even a mosquito to swat at. It was eerily quiet. "Some might say ... ominous."
Frank was used to talking to himself, often in character. He was a coinsurer of music and the printed word. Most evenings, he would rush home, turn on the portable radio or record player, and listen to current hits from Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, and The Four Tops while reading obscure stage plays set in days long gone by. He loved novels about evil scientists or mad genius doctors too, as well as classic literature, like Hemmingway and Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray was an all-time favorite, given to him at age thirteen by the town mortician, Vaughn Hellier.
Vaughn had given Frank most everything he read, though at times he regretted it. "I shall stop bringing you the stories from the library and book stores, Franklin, if you cannot separate fiction from real life."
"You talk funny too, sometimes," Frank would protest.
"I am old and foreign. When I do it, it's eccentric, possibly even endearing. You do not even sound like yourself."
"There is a reason for that, Vaughn. Being anyone else is often preferable."
Frank had given up caring if people thought he was strange. Still, when conversing aloud when no one else was about, he felt it better to pretend he was talking to the creatures of the woods. "Where has everyone gone?" he asked the emptiness of the forest. He had a pretty good idea why, if not where.
Thunder boomed in the distance. Frank wondered if he should hurry up and get inside before the rain came. He decided not to bother. Buzzed short, his black hair dried rather quickly, and since the day was done, sodden work clothes would hardly matter.
"With the temperature so abysmally hot, I can only believe getting caught in a downpour might feel rather pleasant." Frank spoke to an ant that searched about at his elbow now. He questioned why there weren't more. "I know why I'm by myself," he said to the single scout. "Look at me. But why are you? Don't you normally travel with mates? Dozens? Hundreds?" The tiny black creature skittered across Frank's palm, between his fingers, and partway up his wrist. "Have you upset them somehow, or are you just so bold?" He actually stroked it, using only one finger, as if the bug was a tiny cat. "I pray, if ants have feelings, you were not shunned, like me."