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What's the Frequency, Dad?

by Eric Blyton

Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 27 Apr 2001


Background: Frequency was a rather interesting time travel movie. Through some freak of nature, a father and son were able to communicate with each other over a ham radio across 30 years. The son was able to give the father information that prevented his death in a fire, but in doing so changed the past again so that his mother was killed by a serial killer. The son was a cop and had information on the case so he gave information to his father in the past to try and stop the killer. This is a bit complicated and you would do better to see the movie, and not just because it features two cute boys.

You see; the son did not grow up to be that great of a person. While somewhat successful in his job, his personal life is a mess and he lacks discipline. It's strongly implied that the lack of his father's guidance is the cause for this. What would you do if you were talking to your son 30 years in the future and found out that his life was so disorganized?

"Dad? Dad?" John Sullivan said as he spoke in to the microphone of the old ham radio. The speaker was crackling with static, but suddenly there was a hum and then a clear voice.

"Johnny? Is that you?"

"It's me, Dad!" Even though this was about the eight time he'd communicated with his father this way, each time he heard his voice the most powerful feeling of emotion would wash over him. This was the most precious miracle he'd ever heard of.

"How are you doing, Johnny?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Dad. How are things at your end."

"I'm holding it down. We still have four more days, right?"

"Yes," John said as he glanced as his case file. "Four more days."

Four more days before the serial killer would strike again. Four more days before he would send his father into danger again. It was so strange. He still had the memory of his father dying in the warehouse fire, but floating on top of that was his father's death from lung cancer many years later. Also competing in his brain were his twin memories of his mother; one where she was alive and well and the other where she was another victim of the killer they were tracking. Sometimes it felt like his head was going to explode.

"Looks like we've got a clear connection tonight," Frank Sullivan said.

"Yea," John replied as he glanced out of the window, "The Northern Lights are bright tonight."

"Here too. So since we have this time, Johnny, tell me some stories about your life."

And so John talked. It was difficult with two sets of memories to sort through to know from which timeline his experiences came from. He didn't even bother to try. It seemed that as long as this connection remained and he had the ability to influence the past, the uncertainty in his mind would remain. However things turned out, he hoped that at the end it would all become clear to him.

For over an hour and a half he talked, pouring out his soul to his father. All his failures and disappointments, as well as his successes. It wasn't until the static started to increase that he stopped talking.

"I have to go, Johnny," his father said. "There's someone I have to tuck into bed."

"Give him a kiss for me," he said with tears in his eyes. Even at the age of 36, John felt like his would give anything for his father to appear beside him, tuck him into bed and kiss him goodnight.

"I will, Johnny," Frank said and the two of them signed off. John leaned back in his chair and wiped the tears from his eyes.

Exactly thirty years in the past, Frank Sullivan got up from the same desk and went out the door. His wife was sitting in the kitchen in here nurse's uniform getting ready to go to the graveyard shift at the hospital. She looked up at him as he came into the room.

"You were talking a bit late, tonight," she said in a slightly admonishing tone. "I don't know what you and your new radio friend were chatting about, but Johnny's been waiting for you to come up to see him."

"I know, I got a bit carried away," Frank said, struck by the oddness of the situation. He was late tucking in his son because he'd spent so much time talking to the same son. His head hurt if he thought too much about it. After kissing his wife goodbye as she left for work, he went up the stairs to his son's bedroom.

Johnny was sitting on his bed in his pajamas, swinging his short legs back and forth. His eyes lit up as he saw his father and he moved over to give him room to sit. Frank put his arm around his son, aware that if things had followed their intended course, he would be nothing but ashes right now, unable to show his son the love he had for him.

"What were you and your friend John talking about, Dad?" Johnny asked him.

"Oh, just things in general. Nothing too exciting," Frank said by way of evasion.

"You were sure talking a long time."

"I guess we were. Anyway, it's time for you to be in bed."

"I'm ready," Johnny said brightly as if to remind him whose fault it was that he was not yet in bed. The boy scooted up and Frank pulled the covers down as he crawled under them. Then he pulled them back up and tucked them around his son's body.

"Can I ride my bike again tomorrow, Dad?" he asked with a smile on his face. For a kid who'd only learned to ride properly a week or so ago, Johnny had turned into quite the enthusiast.

"Of course you can, son," Frank told him as he leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. He got up and turned out the light.

"I love you, Johnny," he said to where the boy was laying in the darkened room.

"I love you too, Dad," came the sleepy, but sincere reply.

Frank closed the door and went to his own bedroom. How did that cute little boy grow up into a man with such problems? And how much of it was Frank's fault? Granted, in one timeline he had died when his son was six, but in the other he had lived much longer and Johnny, no, John, still seemed to have a mixed-up life. If was a reflective Frank Sullivan who went to sleep that autumn night in 1969.

He and his wife met the next morning at the breakfast table. He was off to work, she was off to bed and Johnny was off to school. Despite their hectic schedules, they always tried to have family meals whenever possible. Once again Johnny mentioned how much he was looking forward to riding his bike and Frank assured him that he could.

His day at work was not a bad one. There were no major fires and he would have been home on time if there had not been a call just before his shift ended. A store was burning and they had to go and put it out. By the time they got back to the station, the shadows were long and he hurried home. He found the house deserted, but there was a note on the table.

'Frank I called the station and they told me that you would be late. Johnny kept pestering me to ride his bike and so I told him it would be okay as long as he stayed near the house and off the street. I've had to go in earlier than I planned. Dinner for you and Johnny is in the refrigerator. Just warm it for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees. Love, Julia'

Frank went back out onto the street but there was no sign of Johnny. Nervousness started to creep over him and his skin broke out in goosebumps. Where was his son? It was now fully dark and the stars were starting to come out. What if the Nightingale killer had tracked him here? What if he had done something to Johnny?

Running back inside, he tried to get himself under control. Who could he call? His story was too unbelievable to tell anyone. His heart was pounding as he ran around the house calling his son's name, knowing full well that he was not there. After a few frantic minutes, he found himself in the radio room. The aurora borealis was shining in through the window. Did he dare turn on the radio? What if there was no voice on the other end of the line?

With a silent prayer, he fired the radio up. Holding the microphone he started urgently paging his adult son. At first there was only static, but after long seconds he heard another voice.

"Dad? That you?"

"Yes, son, it's me," he said, relief flooding his voice.

"What's wrong, Dad? Did something happened to Mom?"

"No, it's not Mom. She's fine. It's you. I'm home and you're supposed to be here and you're not. I was afraid something had happened to you," he said all in a rush.

"I'm still here, Dad," his son said reassuringly. "What's happened there?"

"I came home and you aren't here. Your mom left a note that you were riding your bike in front of the house, but I don't see you anywhere."

"Hang on Dad, maybe I can try and remember where I was," John said.

There was a pause and Frank nervously drummed his fingers on the desk. He'd been greatly relieved to hear his adult son's voice, but he would not feel safe until his six-year-old son was safe in his arms.

"I remember I used to ride my bike a lot after I first learned how to," his son's voice came over the airwaves, "and I used to be late a lot. Sometimes it would be Gordo and me and other times I would be by myself. I remember you would fuss me for being late, but I don't think it ever stopped me much. I'm sure I'm fine, Dad. I'll probably be there any minute."

As if summoned by his older self, Frank heard the unmistakable high-pitched voice of his son as he pulled into the yard and parked his bike. At last his relief was complete.

"Hang on, son. I'll be back to you in a few minutes," he said.

"I'll wait, Dad," came the reply.

Frank went to the front door and opened it just as his son was trotting up the concrete steps.

"Johnny, where have you been?" he asked.

"Oh, I was just riding around," his son said with an excited smile on his face. "This bike can go so fast!"

So great was Frank's relief that all he could do was lean down and hug his little boy. But even as he did this, thoughts were flooding his mind. John had said that he did this quite often. He fully intended to scold Johnny, but apparently that never stopped his behavior. He knew what he should do, but somehow his extra lease on life seemed such a gift that he rebelled against the obvious punishment. And how much worse would if be if things continued on their altered course and something were to happen to his wife? Searching his heart, he knew that this would cause him to become even more forgiving to Johnny. No wonder he grew up the way he did. In one timeline, Frank wasn't there and in the other his guilt overcame his basic parenting instincts. Well, he was just going to have to quash them.

"Johnny," he said, breaking off his embrace and looking his son in the eye, "We need to have a talk."

Johnny recognized the seriousness in his father's voice and his expression became wary.

"I know your mother told you that you could ride your bike," Frank continued, "But was that all she said to you?"

Johnny's expression grew more nervous at the stern tone.

"She....she told me to stay on our street," he stammered.

"And did you do that?"

"No, Dad," he admitted.

"Why not?"

"I just....I just wanted to see how far I could go."

This, Frank realized, was the crux of the matter. Johnny had meant that literally, but there were two meanings. Children, especially boys, were always trying to push the limits to see how far they could be pushed. It was the job of parents to set the limits and keep children to them. He would be doing his son no service if he abdicated this responsibility out of a misguided sense of guilt. Johnny had pushed the limit and now he needed to pay the consequences.

"Well, you had me quite worried, Johnny," Frank explained with a firm expression on his face. "You've only just learned to ride and it's very easy to have an accident. Your mother told you to stay on this road where it was safe and you didn't obey her. I'm afraid I'm going to have to punish you for that."

"I'm sorry, Dad!" Johnny said in an earnest tone with a quaver in his voice, "I won't do it again! I promise!"

Frank felt the tugging on his heartstrings, but he ignored them. Johnny sounded sincere and at the moment he probably meant what he was saying, but he knew without a shadow of a doubt that Johnny needed something more than a good talking to if he was to be stopped from disobeying. He had it straight from the horse's mouth.

Holding Johnny firmly by the hand, he led him into the radio room. Frank sat down in the wooden chair and held Johnny by his sides.

"Now son," he said in a calm, but stern tone, "I know how fun it is just to ride and let all your cares away. Sometimes it's fine to do that, but it can also be dangerous. You have to listen to your mother and me about this. You should listen because we understand the risks even if you don't. But if you need another reason you should listen because if you don't, I'm going to spank you. And because you didn't listen, that's what I'm going to do now."

The finality in Frank's tone had a predictable effect on his six-year old son. His face dissolved into tears and he started to beg.

"No, Dad, don't spank me, please!" he sobbed.

"I don't want to," Frank said sincerely, "But this is too serious for me to do anything else. Next time you're tempted to ride off like that, I hope you will remember what will happen to you."

Frank unsnapped his son's jeans and eased down the zipper. Johnny stood there with tears streaming silently down his face as his father pulled his jeans down past his knees and around his ankles. With his strong arms, Frank picked him up and swung him over his lap. Johnny's T-shirt was in the way, but he pushed it up the boy's back so that it was gathered under his arms. With his jeans gone one way and his shirt the other, only this slightly-too-small boys briefs were covering Johnny's bottom. Frank shifted his legs so that the boy was bent at a sharper angle, sticking his rear up high so that if offered a better target.

"I'm sorry I have to do this," Frank said as he slowly rubbed his son's cotton-covered butt, "But I have to teach you a lesson and this is simply the best way."

Johnny's crying had become a low, keening sort of noise, but it was about to get much louder.

SMACK! went Frank's hand on his son's jackknifed rear. Johnny cried out in pain and shock as the sting from the spank spread through his bottom. Frank noticed the effect and was not shy about using a good portion of his strength, SMACK! SMACK! SMACK!!

Back in 1999, John Sullivan was sitting at his radio when he was hit with another burst of disorienting images. He held onto the sides of his chair to save himself from falling backwards.

Thirty years earlier, Frank continued to warm his son's rear with his hand. Johnny's legs were effectively restrained by his bunched up jeans, but his hands waved about as he futilely struggled. Despite his loud cries of pain each time his father's hand went SMACK! on his bottom, Frank was unsure just how hard the spanking was. There was really only one way to find out. It would cause Johnny more pain, but that was the point of a spanking, after all.

Frank wrapped his fingers around the waistband of Johnny's underpants and started to tug them down. He did not waste any time as he did not want to give the boy the false hope that the spanking was over. It was a successful message based on his son's immediate reaction.

"No, Dad, please don't do that!" he blubbered. "Please, Dad, that's enough, please don't spank me like that!"

"I'm sorry, Johnny," he said as he worked the briefs down his son's thighs to his knees, "But it's really the best way to do this."

As he'd suspected, his son's bottom was only pink. Bright pink, but pink none the less. The job would not be properly done until those smooth cheeks glowed rosy red. And it would take a number of firm spanks to make that happen. Better to get started.

SPANK!! SPANK!! SPANK!!! Fresh howls sprang from Johnny's throat as his naked cheeks felt the full force of his father's chastisement. The heat in his well-rounded bottom increased rapidly as the skin colour changed.

In 1999, John Sullivan pitched forward in his chair as new memories were suddenly added to his already overloaded brain.

His father pulling down his pants and underpants.

His father spanking him and Gordo in the backward after some crazy stunt they'd pulled.

His father making him take off his pajamas and bend over his bed completely naked.

His father spanking him with a hairbrush for a disastrous report card.

Being over his father's knee, knowing that soon his bare bottom would be blistered by his father's firm hand.

But along with these images, came others.

His father wiping the tears from his eyes and telling him that he hoped he understood.

His father rubbing his stinging cheeks, bringing the pain down to a manageable level.

His father hugging him, telling him he loved him as he pulled his underpants back into place.

Around him, the house was subtlety changing. John had always had things laying around in an untidy, disorganized fashion, but suddenly that didn't seem to be the case. Everything was neatly put into place. The windows were cleaner and the floor shone. The dust and cobwebs that tended to gather in the corners disappeared. As John started to digest his new memories, he seemed to feel a phantom stinging in his rear.

Back in 1969, there was no disputing the stinging in Johnny Sullivan's bottom. His father's hand had done its job well. Both cheeks were lit with a hot red glow and he had stopped struggling. Frank realized that his son had gotten the message but gave him one more hard SPANK!!!! right in the middle of his bottom to make sure. Johnny was sobbing and hiccuping as he fought to keep his breath. Very gently, Frank pulled his half-naked son into his lap and got him to blow his nose.

"It's all right now, Johnny," he explained as he hugged the boy, "You've been punished and that's the end of it."

Frank held him and rocked him until he quieted down.

"Can you stand up now?" Frank asked him. When Johnny nodded yes, Frank put him on the floor and pulled his briefs up, covering his hairless little dick and balls. Then he did the same with his jeans, taking care not to irritate the boy's burning behind.

"You run go wash up for dinner, then, Johnny," he said. "I'll be along in a bit."

As soon as his son had left the room he turned back to the radio.

"Son? You still there?" he asked as he anxiously held the microphone.

"Dad? What just happened there? Did you just spank me?" came his son's voice from across the years.

"Yes, I did," Frank said. This was strangest part of already extremely strange situation. "You could tell at your end?"

"Yes, I remember it now. Plus it had an....effect at this end. A good one."

"It did?"

"Yes. Don't be afraid to spank me again if I need it. Not that you will because all of a sudden I remember any number of spankings that you gave me."

"I wasn't too hard on you, was I?" Frank was suddenly concerned. He didn't want to turn into an ogre.

"No you weren't. Except for the time you spanked me for leaving the water running in the bathroom. I really didn't do that."

"I'll try to remember," Frank said with a laugh. The absurdity of the conversation was beginning to take a toll on him. He saw a shadow in the door and looked up. Johnny was standing there with a freshly washed face.

"John, my son's just come in," he said to warn against him saying anything that would screw up the future any more.

"Can I talk to him?"

"Do you want to talk to my friend John again?" Frank asked. For a moment Johnny seemed to think about in, but then he nodded yes.

"Hi John," he said into the microphone.

"Hey, Johnny how ya doin'?"

"Okay, I guess."

"I understand you just got a spanking," John said with sympathy in his voice. Johnny gave his father a resentful look that told him that he did not appreciate this being discussed over the airwaves.

"He only told me because he was feeling bad about it," John continued, correctly guessing how his younger self would feel about this revelation. "He was wondering if he'd done the right thing. Let me tell you, Johnny, I know exactly how you feel. Right now you might be a little angry with your Dad and you probably don't really understand why he had to spank you. I remember once when I was about your age, I did the exact same thing that you did. I wasn't supposed to ride my bike off our block, but I did it anyway. When I got home, my daddy spanked me. The next time I went riding, I remembered that and only went where I was allowed. Soon my dad trusted me to go further and I rode all over the place and didn't get into trouble. I know you probably won't believe me, but I promise you one day you'll understand and you'll thank your dad for what he did."

Johnny looked at Frank. It was clear that today wasn't going to be the day that he'd be thanked for spanking his son; well at least not by the six-year old version of him, but it seemed there was a glimmer of understanding there.

"You go and have dinner with your dad," John's voice said from the radio, "and try not to give him a hard time, okay? He's just looking out for you."

"Okay, I won't," Johnny said into the mike. "Nice talking to you again, John."

"You too, Johnny."

"All right John," Frank said as he took back the microphone, "I'm going to sign off now. You take care of yourself and I hope we'll talk again tomorrow."

"You too, Frank, thanks for everything."

The radio fell silent. In 1969 Frank Sullivan and his son sat at the table and enjoyed the meal that had been lovingly prepared for them. Johnny squirmed a bit in his seat but his father got a pillow and placed it under him after giving him a peck on the cheek and all hard feelings evaporated. In 1999 John Sullivan looked around his neat house and held a framed photograph of himself and his father.

"Thanks for everything, Dad," he whispered as he looked into the 30-year-old image. "I love you."

End

About the title of this story: Sometime in the early 1990's, CBS news anchor Dan Rather was walking down the street minding his own business when he was attacked by a stranger. The man punched and slapped at him wildly all the while screaming, inexplicably, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" To add insult to injury, many people in the press refused to believe Rather, suggesting that it was some sort of stunt to drum up ratings for the sagging CBS evening news. The rock band REM later wrote a song entitled "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" and when they went on the Letterman Show to perform it, invited the tone-deaf Rather to sing the chorus. Several years later, it was proved that Rather had not made up a thing when the man who had attacked him was revealed to be a psychopath who believed that there was a media conspiracy to beam signals into his brain. This came out after he murdered a cameraman working on the Today show. None of this has anything to do with the movie Frequency, but it made for a catchy title


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