A Short Story by Will Dursens


As a person with an inner need to care about others even when others see no sense in doing so, I ran across a picture of an older man with a soft white beard and leathery look.

A leather look of someone who has worked hard, played hard or just had a rough life.

For whatever reason, this photo attracted my full attention as I began to wonder what or if there was a story behind the man and how he ended up where he was when the picture may have been taken.

After a good 15-20 minutes of holding the picture, starring at it, and wondering, the comfort of my recliner got the best of me, and I must have fallen asleep.

Suddenly, I felt something or someone nudging my feet and as I groggily worked at waking up I could a voice saying, “Hey old man, you need to get up and move before they come through here and take you away again.”

As I slowly opened one eye at a time, slowly so the glare of the sun would not hurt so much, I immediately realized I was no longer in my comfy recliner with my puppy Frosty Lou napping between my legs.

Instead as a starred into the bright sunlight I see a shadow of a figure gently nudging my legs once again and restating, “Come on old man, I don’t want you to get taken away again. Remember the last time they took you away, you nearly didn’t make it back here so we could help you.”

As the shadowy figure came more into focus, he appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties with clothes that looked as if he was working a casual job.

“What do you mean take me away?” I sheepishly asked.

“Come on old man, you know,” he responded with a voice of plea and frustration. “If you don’t get up and move around, they will take you away and then the work we have been doing to help you get your life back will have been wasted.”

As I began to move around and stretch my legs and arms which suddenly seemed too tight with exhaustion, I quickly realized for a fact that I was no longer at home in my recliner.

My clothes seemed to be a bit worn and definitely on the dirty side as if I had been wearing them for several days.

I found myself hanging on to an oversized pillow which rested on the top of a pile made of a couple of full garbage bags along with an old suitcase that looked as if it had been on hundreds of trips over the years.

As I began to sit up, I looked back over my shoulder and found myself looking into a large store window and much to my surprise, I was looking at a man who looked just like the man in the photo I had been holding and studying before I remember dozing off.

Once again, the person nudging my feet and legs spoke up, “Come on old man, let me help you get your stuff, and we will go back to my coffee shop for a bit and talk some.”

As I stood and took a quick account of all my faculties, lined jean jacket, clothing and even the driver’s cap I had on my head, I squinted my eyes as I looked him eye to eye and asked, “You know who I am?”

“What a silly question old man,” he replied. “Of course, I know who you are, you are Mr. Karl Janis.”

“Karl Janis?” I asked.

“Of course,” he answered. “You used to be a teacher and coach somewhere in Kansas according to what we have been able to get from our talks. You already forgetting the talks we have been having?”

Realizing I needed an answer as to why I had no clue to what he was saying I noted, “Sorry, when I was settling down to rest last night, I stumbled and hit my head on the wall underneath that window and it must have messed with my memory. And now I have a really bad headache.”

“No problem,” he replied with a smile. “Let us get your stuff together and get moving as these Phoenix folks picking up homeless people will be through here in another 15 minutes. You know, around 9:00 am just like they are every morning.”

“Do you have a name?” I asked.

“You’re right, you must have hit your hit your head surprisingly good. I’m Doug and I run a nearby coffee shop.”

“Okay, thank you Doug for helping me. I could probably use some food.”

“Absolutely,” he whispered as he helped gather my things. “Let us get you to the coffee shop and I will set you up in that back room I use for you and the guys. Then I will get you some hot chocolate and a couple of egg and sausage biscuits.”

At that point I had finally gathered my belongings and my legs were warming up enough to keep up with Doug as I followed him down the street and around the corner to his place, The Alleviate Coffee, Sandwich & Soup Kitchen.

“This is your place?” I asked as he pulled the door open for us to enter.

“Yep, I’ve been here for five years now, and the corner spot has worked delightfully well for both the business and my passion of helping others.”

After we entered the coffee shop, Doug led me toward the back and a short hallway where he directed me into a small room that had a table, a couple of chairs, and a small cot with pillows and blankets on it.

As I set my stuff down in a corner of the room and turned toward sitting at the table, I asked Doug a question of interest, “Why Alleviate?”

“Karl, you’ve heard the story before,” he replied with a snarky smile.

As I threw my hands up in the air, giving him the reminder that I could not remember, Doug began to quickly remind me of the story behind the name Alleviate.

He told me how the definition of Alleviate was ‘to make suffering, deficiency, or a problem less severe’ and that fit his personality perfectly because he had previously worked with people disabled or suffering from the early forms of dementia.

Alleviate covers a lot of things he told me, from helping solve the deficiency of food and drink of the regular customers to the opportunity of helping those less fortunate to get some food in their system while he would help them work at getting their life back.

“So, I am just one of your projects?”

“No, I do not consider any of the homeless or unfortunate folks I have helped as simply projects,” he responded. “I consider it a calling to help my fellow man without the hassles of bureaucracy that the government might give these people like you.”

Doug went on to explain that over the past four years he had helped up to thirty folks whose circumstances had become very bleak to rediscover themselves, their past, their families and for most a future of hope, faith, and love.

At that point, Doug excused himself and headed back into the coffee shop before returning with a large mug of hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows along with a couple of homemade sausage and egg biscuits and a large chocolate chip cookie.

“You enjoy some eats, and I will be back in a bit,” he noted as he set the food on the table and quickly turned and left the room again. “Maybe eating will help the headache.”

As my muscle and bones enjoyed the warmth of the hot chocolate and breakfast sandwiches, I casually began to rummage through my stuff.

In one bag I found a couple of extra pair of jeans along with some underwear, t-shirts and three button up outer shirts as well as a couple of pullover shirts. There also appeared some extra socks and just one pair of extra shoes. All the clothes looked as if they had seen many days of wear, yet recently washed and cleaned up.

The smaller of the two garbage bags produced some essentials like deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, electric razor and even some after shave, I guess to help this guy not smell to bad when being homeless.

As I was finishing the second breakfast sandwich and was reaching for the suitcase, Doug returned.

“You must have been damn hungry because you never eat that fast,” he noted when he saw the food was gone and the hot chocolate as well. “Would like some more to eat?”

“Maybe another mug of hot chocolate and if you have an apple or banana maybe?” I responded.

With that Doug gathered my dishes and left the room again as I pulled the suitcase up to my lap and began to open it.


As I studied the suitcase, I realized it was still very sturdy despite it having the appearance of much wear and tear from traveling or moving around on the streets.

Opening the suitcase, the first thing I noticed were three books. One being a copy of the Bible, one being a copy of “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale and the third book being a copy of the “12 Steps for Alcoholics and Addicts”.

All three books had the obvious appearance that someone had read several times over and while giving them each a quick glance by flipping through some pages, I found scribbled notes filling in around the edges within each book. To me it said, this Karl guy was a reader and had the inner want to get back to a better life.

Also found within the suitcase were a couple of notepads, maps of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa as well as some very faded pictures of members of this guy’s family at one time.

The notepads had some scribbling on several pages, but just as I began to read them, Doug reappeared.

“Here is another big mug of hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows and got you both a banana and an apple for now.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Why do I not have any identification with my stuff, yet you seem to know who I am?”

“Old man, you really did hit your head didn’t you,” he responded with a smile.

He then explained to me that after several visits here to the coffee shop and talks with him, that they decided his wallet was safer when secured in the store safe for those times he went back on the streets due to not being able to stay at the coffee shop for more than a day or two stretch. I was told the wallet did have an outdated Arizona driver’s license and a very faded Kansas driver’s license from some town called Clay Center as well as about $1,000 in cash.

With that I asked him, because I wanted to know who I was, “Since I hit my head and seemed to have forgotten stuff, can you explain how you know me and what you know about me?”

With that, Doug smiled and replayed the tale of finding me on a street corner three months earlier during a severe rainstorm and being the kind of person he was, he brought me to his coffee shop so I could dry out and get some food.

In the three months since, he and I had several lengthy talks about who I am and was, where I came from (which was somewhere in Kansas) and what caused me to be where I was now. Doug also mentioned that the talks had begun to breach the time away from this fellows family members.

Within the information, I was told that Karl Janis was a man in his late fifties who during a time that covered his late twenties, thirties, and early forties, had been a successful teacher and coach in Iowa and Kansas. He coached football, a little basketball and baseball while teaching psychology.

Doug also explained to me that Karl had been married at one time and had two children, but that is where the story of his life changed.

Some fifteen years earlier, Karl’s wife and two children who at the time were ages eight and nine were taking a road trip from Kansas back to Iowa to visit family in a village along the Missouri River named Onawa.

It was early evening on a Saturday night in May that the family was heading north on I-29 entering the southern outskirts of Omaha when a drunk came up the wrong way on an exit ramp and hit the family vehicle head on, none of Karl’s family members survived.

Karl learned of the accident while finishing a championship baseball game back in Kansas.

For almost three years, Karl apparently fought the depression of losing his family and nearly carried on a normal life until the sense of loss caused so much pain that in a seven-day period, Karl filed paperwork with an attorney that gave his attorney permission to sell his home and all the belongings within and then take all the proceeds and putt them into a savings account at a bank in Clay Center, Kansas – the last place Karl lived what most would call a normal life.

Karl then just walked away from his life, after leaving a note for his siblings, he put $5,000 in his wallet and a few belongings in his car and just drove away.

Eventually in the talks with Doug, Karl shared how he drove to the little town of Craig, Colorado and left his car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, eventually several days later mailing the keys to the car to the local police department while finding his way by bus to Arizona where he tried to restart life in the area around Phoenix, even using another name – Gus Wellington – when getting a job.

Unfortunately, the depression and eventual drinking got so bad for Karl that he could not even keep minimal jobs like cooking at a restaurant or even being a custodian for a business building. Doug talked about how Karl had worked hard at avoiding places where families would be due to the pain of having lost his own children, but that task was near impossible and the more he was around families and children, the more in despair he fell.

Losing job after job because of his constant battle with depression and hopelessness, Karl eventually took to the streets and homeless shelters while still managing to hang on to what money he had left until Doug came around.

Doug also explained that he loved helping those in desperate moments try and talk about their life, how they got to those desperate times and then offered to help each one that would be willing to take his offer.

“Why did you decide to help me, or any of the others?” I asked him.

“Because you, like the others I helped, deep within your hearts all wanted to be saved and live a life again,” he responded. “Each and everyone I have been able to help have eventually shared an inner desire to get back with family and return to the positive’s in their previous lives.”

“Did you have anyone that you just could not help?”

“Yes, there has been a few,” he replied with a deep look of sadness suddenly appearing on his face. “I had one fellow who the night before he was to re-connect with his wife, committed suicide. Another one just broke down one day and told me he was not strong enough to go back to ‘normal’ living and left all his stuff here and walked away – I have no clue what happened to him. A third man was so eager to return to life that it was difficult to let him return to the streets those last few nights before he was going to meet up with his family again after 15 years of being out of touch. That was a man who was murdered by a homeless couple who stripped him of his clothes and took everything he had in his possessions.”

Doug continued, “I nearly quit doing these acts of kindness after that third fellow, but then my sister who is a pastor like our father was up in Idaho, reminded me that just because I wasn’t a pastor like our dad was, I was doing strong, true Christian work by helping these individuals desperate in tough times. With that reminder, I have kept doing it and am so hoping that the positive movements in conversation and attitude you have had, that you Karl, will be another success story. I honestly feel that your siblings are looking for you and want to have you back in their lives once again.”

“Yea, I just don’t know about that just yet,” I said, knowing that I was not who Karl really was. “I still have some work to do, I mean look at me, I am still a mess.”

“But you are a good mess now,” he said while putting a hand on my shoulder and smiling down at me in the chair. “You changed a lot in the past few weeks let alone the past couple of months. We have begun talking about your siblings and where they are. We have even talked about you considering giving me permission to put out a feeler in their direction to see just how much they want you back in their life. I am just waiting for you to give the okay.”

With that Doug finished reminding Karl about the schedule he had made with him to do some odd jobs around the coffee shop like light janitorial things to fixing some loose chairs and tables.

He also reminded Karl of how much more relaxed he was when it came time to go back out on the streets in the evening now that he trusted Doug with his wallet and money as unlike most homeless folks, he reminded Karl of the couple of thousands of cash he was keeping safe for him.

At that point, I (Karl) told Doug that he needed to take a nap, so he got up and walked over to the cot and laid out one of the blankets, grabbed a pillow along with his own pillow, and laid down.

“I will check with you in a while Karl,” noted Doug as he headed for the door and turned the lights off.

3 – “MY NAP & CALL”

After several minutes of complete silence and dark, I felt a wet mess along the side of my face and realized that it was my trusty puppy Frosty Lou licking my face to either let me know he needed to go out and do his business, or he was just checking to see if I was still alive and well. Either way, it brought me back to reality and the fact that I was still in my recliner at home.

As I gave my puppy some cuddles, I finished waking up from my nap and found that I was in fact still holding in my hand the picture of the old homeless guy that I appeared to have become in my dream.

With my puppy outside, I began to wonder about that very realistic dream I had and if there was in fact any truth to be found from my dream and the homeless guy for who I appeared to have become.

After the puppy did his thing and came back in the house, I grabbed a bottle of water and headed for my office where I began looking up some of the information remembered from my dream and my eyes and mind were stunned at what I found.

First, I found that there really was a coffee shop named Alleviate in Phoenix and when I looked upon their website and Facebook pages, I found that it was indeed owned by a man named Doug Snook and yes, he had a strong reputation for doing Christian things like befriending and helping homeless folks, even to the point of helping many get back to their families and life as it had been.

At that point I typed in the name of Karl Janis with a point of mentioning the word teacher/coach/educator in Kansas. Much to my disbelief, I found several references to man by that name and the successes he had teaching and coaching along with a reference to an article written up in the Salina Journal some 15 years previous where they went in depth about his sudden disappearance after struggling with depression after a motor vehicle incident killed his wife and two children.

The journalist in me was very curious now as to what became of the real Karl Janis and with the fresh information verifying the Coffee Shop and Doug from my dream was real, I now wanted to pursue the situation and see if Karl Janis was real as well.

I mean after all, I was familiar with Kansas as I have lived in the state for 40 years and the town of Onawa along the Missouri River was near a place that I spent a short couple of years as a child.

So, the journalist in me wrote down the phone number for the coffee shop and I proceeded to dial it up.

“Hello, this is Alleviate Coffee Shop may I help you?”

“Yes, I was wondering if I could talk with Doug Snook, please?” I asked.

“Let me see if he is busy.”

After a few moments of hearing the commotion that goes with a busy food service business in the background, a voice returned to the phone.

“This is Doug, may I help you?”

“Yes sir, my name is Will Kranz, and I am a journalist in Kansas who is looking to do a story on your work with the homeless as well as possible offering you my background in research to help you with the work as well. Would you have a few moments to talk?”

Sounding overly cautious with his response, Doug replied, “Yes I have a few minutes now, what would you like to know?”

Without going into details, I was wondering if among the homeless folks you have helped in the Phoenix area, that any of them might gone by the name of Karl Janis?”

The phone call became noticeably quiet for a minute or two before Doug replied, “How did you get that name connected to possible being in the Phoenix area if I can ask?”

Lucky for me, the photo I had been holding earlier during my nap and dream, was sitting in front of me on the desk and I noted that the homeless person in the photo was in the Phoenix area. This gave me an out on explaining my inquiry, even if it meant fibbing a bit around the actual story or facts it involves.

“Well sir, I have a picture of a homeless man along the streets of Phoenix that referenced he was among those homeless in the area near the Alleviate Coffee Shop that had a formidable reputation for helping the homeless. The photo does not give a date, but the man seemed familiar to me living here in Kansas, so I did some research and found a few articles about a missing former teacher from Clay Center. The article talked about the man disappearing and some theories were that he probably went southwest because he always complained about the Kansas weather.”

After another few moments of dead silence, Doug again responded, “I find the question interesting as I am currently working with a man who might be the Karl Janis you are asking about. This man just this morning claimed he hit his head last night and cannot remember the past few months when we worked with him while trying to get him to open up about his story and then to the point of being willing to return to his life and family. How do I know I can trust you?”

“You can’t except by faith,” I answered honestly. “I do know we are both pastor kids with a need or want to help others in our own way of pastoring. Let me give you my number if you want to think about working with me, but I can assure you that my intentions are good and all I want is for this fellow, Karl Janis, to return to his family because according to my recent research, they are still looking for him with immediate concerns for his health and well-being.”

“What I will do is talk with Karl and see what he says as I am not sure he is ready to return to life and family just yet, but we have gotten really, really close,” Doug explained. “Not sure with him forgetting things today whether or not it will help or hurt the idea. Can you call me back this evening, maybe after 7:00 pm our time?”

“Yes, I will do that, thank you. Look forward to talking again.”

With that the call went dead and I immediately put my research skills to work and began looking up as much information as I could about Karl Janis, his background, and most importantly, his family.

While researching, I found that Karl did indeed have three sisters and one brother with his brother living in Iowa and the three sisters spread out among South Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas.

I found that he was truly a successful coach of various sports in both Iowa and Kansas while also being a well-liked teacher who according to comments left tied to writes about his being missing, had numerous former students cherishing their time with him as a student.

At one point, I also began to ponder the underlining meaning to something that Doug said regarding to Karl having lost his memory this morning during a period which my dream may have had me within his head.

At 8:15 my time, 7:15 Phoenix time, I returned to the phone with a call to the Alleviate Coffee Shop.

“Hello, this is Karl, may I help you?”

For a moment I was caught off guard to hear a voice tied to the name of the man I was looking for, but I quickly collected my thoughts and replied, “Yes, I was looking to talk with Doug please.”

“Sure, I will go get him, give us a couple of minutes.”

After two or three minutes, Doug got on the phone and announced, “Yes, this is Doug and would this be journalist, researcher, Will Kranz returning the call from earlier?”

“Yes, it is and was that Karl Janis who answered your phone?”

“As a matter of fact, it was as he is hanging around this evening helping me with a few odd jobs,” Doug responded. “I have an interesting item to explain to you.”

From that point Doug explained to me how when Karl woke up from his nap earlier, his headache was gone and he was very curious as to why he, Doug, seemed to be rehashing his story to him when he first laid down for a nap on the cot in our backroom.

This got my attention and yet I found no reasonable way to explain the truth to how I heard about Karl, Doug, and the Coffee Shop. This means that for now, we just move forward with the story as told on the phone.

Doug continued to share by adding, “I did talk with Karl, and he would be interested in letting you help reopen the channel of communication with his siblings if you were still wanting to do so?”

“Of course, I would love the opportunity to help Karl get his life back,” I responded.

And with that, my dream and the story of Karl Janis would one day continue.

{Copyright@2022 by CrossDove Writers/Will Dursens – No reprint can be made without written permission}