Friday, February 10, 2006

Tales of the Stranger, Episode 4

Well, here is Episode 4 (of 7, at last count) of the Tales of the Stranger series. Enjoy if you can, comments welcome...

Destination Nowhere by Eaglewing

That was a mistake.

He leaned his head against the window of the Greyhound bus he was riding on and stared out into the night at other passing cars, telephone poles, and the glare of lights shining off the rain slicked streets. It had started raining shortly after the bus had rolled onto the highway, and he for one didn’t mind at all. It matched his mood.

The earlier memory-erasing attempt hadn’t gone well. He had a feeling it wouldn’t, but he had been feeling the edge just a little too sharp, and figured he knew what would dull it. Then, between the horny blonde and the nosy bartender, the plan had failed miserably.

You should have known better, he thought, chastising himself. However, the upshot of the deal was hearing himself actually say the words and try to convince someone else that he wasn’t into adding more weight to an already heavy load. Maybe there was something to that; but then, maybe not.

He often wondered just what would happen to him, what would he become, if he actually found a way to shed the weight of the past. He had lived – well, survived – so long with it that the thought of being without that dark feeling always on the edge of his mind actually scared him, and he didn’t scare easy. Things aren’t right for me unless they’re wrong, he thought, and he didn’t know if he could be…well, happy. Or free. To not wake up in the morning wishing he hadn’t. Even if there were a way from the past to a better future, would he know how to learn to live again?

He shook his head. The drinking hadn’t intoxicated him, but apparently it had made him philosophical. He hated thinking about these things, because not once had he come up with a good answer to a solitary question. Still, he couldn’t help admitting that lately there was a light burning through the darkness around the edge of his mind and the questions it was bringing with it were confounding to say the least. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find answers. I might be pretty far down, but I’m not entirely out yet.

He turned his neck to work out a kink, and looked around at the other passengers. They were mostly sleeping or listening to their iPods, so he pushed himself further back into his seat, turned back to the window, and silently wished it was something other than half worn fabric and steel surrounding him.

What was that? He looked up and ahead. Something akin to a flash had caught his attention, but he couldn’t place it. Nothing looked out of the ordinary – the driver was doing his thing, and the few people ahead of the stranger were sleeping. Then it hit him. It was something from behind. He had a view of the driver’s rearview mirror and the flash had come from that angle, via the mirror. He straightened up and took another look around. Nothing was obvious, but that old feeling in his gut told him something wasn’t right. Then his mind told him he was being paranoid, but then his gut told him it had never been wrong yet. Then he told them both to shut up.

He seriously hoped nobody was stupid enough to cause an incident on a bus to nowhere, as he had been having enough clichéd incidents happening around him as of late. He was in no mood tonight to battle more foolishness. Still, out of habit, he took one last look around as he pretended to stretch his neck, and then he saw it. A glint of steel from a small revolver tucked under the sweatshirt of a guy who was too old to be trying to look like a punk, but was going for the look just the same.

The stranger sighed. No good could come of this. He kept himself sharp, but did nothing as he hoped the punk wasn’t going to try to pull something on a moving bus. But then, if wishes were horses, I wouldn’t be riding a Greyhound, he thought absently.

The stranger saw the punk nod and move, then everything happened fast. Another punk, younger, on the front seat jumped up and clubbed the driver over the head before grabbing the wheel. Old punk stood up and pulled the gun. The stranger had no idea what was going down, but he wasn’t going to wait around to find out. He moved at the same time old punk did, and he wasn’t ready for that. They hit the aisle together and the stranger grabbed the punk’s gun hand, tearing the revolver away in a quick twist as he hit him with an uppercut with his free hand, knocking him back a step. The dazed punk looked up and saw the stranger’s boot come in hard with a kick to the midsection, sending him several feet down the aisle and to the floor. Gun in hand, the stranger turned to the younger punk, now a young bus driving punk, and aimed the weapon.

“Stop the bus!” he yelled. Young punk didn’t, so he pulled the trigger and stopped him instead. The bullet went through his right shoulder and out the front window as he yelled in pain and slumped forward, still clutching the wheel. The stranger was moving with the shot and reached the wounded young man, grabbing the wheel just as the tires rolled onto the shoulder of the road.

Stuffing the gun into his belt, the stranger used his free hand to pull the hurting youth from the seat and tossed him down the steps into the door well. Then he slid into the seat and took a firm hold of the wheel, slowly guiding the rolling shooting gallery to the side of the road, putting it in neutral and applying the parking brake. They wouldn’t be moving again soon.

He got back up and turned towards the aisle, expecting the usual post incident cleanup. What he found was young punk down and out, and old punk on his feet with what must have been a backup gun in his hand. This night just keeps getting worse, he silently cursed himself, the earlier shots of liquor and the slow down effect it must be having on him now. It would have been worse in others, but for him it was a small effect, just enough to make him not the best. Normally, he’d have made sure the other guy wouldn’t have been able to get back up.

Then realizing his attacker also had a gun, the old punk grabbed the nearest person – a young teenaged girl – and used her as a shield. The stranger was too far away to stop him and too close not to try. He just wasn’t entirely sure how.

“Lose the gun!” Punk yelled out at the man who had interrupted his plan. He didn’t, but he didn’t draw it either.

“Look,” the stranger started, “I don’t know what possessed you to try to hijack a bus in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t care. How about you let her go, we get some help for your friend here, and then we all call it night, ok? Nobody else has to get hurt.”

Before the offer could be accepted, a young boy, maybe 10 or 12, sitting a row back of the girl, launched himself at the gunman, screaming, "Get away from my sister!” and the courageous, if thoughtless, move surprised everyone, causing chaos. The girl dropped forward into the seats next to her. The stranger moved forward towards the gun. The boy more or less bounced off the more solid gunman, but the old punk was thrown forward from the boy’s momentum and he threw out both arms to brace himself, causing his gun hand to bounce off the right side seat.

The stranger saw the flash, heard the shot, and felt the pain. An invisible fist slammed into his left arm, throwing him off balance, but he didn’t fall. Reaching the gunman, who had fallen forward, he tried to grab the gun with his left hand, but it wouldn’t seem to listen. So instead, he grabbed it with his right, kicked the man in the groin, and proceeded to coldcock him with the butt of the gun. Looking around, it appeared everyone who counted was down now, in one way or another.

Then his vision blurred a bit and he felt rather tall all of a sudden. So, before the floor could rush up to meet him, he decided to sit down.

By now, other people were moving. Pulling out cell phones and calling 911, rushing to the aid of the unharmed brother and sister, and then someone’s hands were on the stranger’s arm yet too.
“It’s not that bad, buddy,” he heard someone say to him. Then to someone else, “He’s losing blood, but keep pressure on it here, ok?”

Sitting there bleeding, he marveled at how complete strangers could quickly come together to help out in an emergency. Why was it that only extreme emergencies brought out that cohesiveness in people? Any other time they all just ignored each other. How ironic. People got good when things went bad.

He started to laugh as a different kind of darkness closed around his eyes.

It felt peaceful.

It felt like a relief, and he let it come.

Then he saw the face of someone he didn’t expect in his mind’s eye. A memory, another’s eyes, and words said, all rose to the surface and kicked his survival instincts into gear.

But the darkness continued to close, voices faded, and he started to wonder…

Is it finally over?

The End.

Check back for Tales of the Stranger, Episode 5: Getting to Tomorrow. Coming Soon!

Comments on "Tales of the Stranger, Episode 4"


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (February 11, 2006 3:38 PM) : 

Whooo! The stranger returns!

Excellent story. I liked the little ironies throughout.

Since you asked for feedback, the only weakness I could see was that nobody had a name. That's not a weakness in itself, but it made the middle action sequence hard to describe. "The stranger kicked the old punk while the young punk...." etc. :-) Not sure how to fix that.

But that is minor and nitpicking, and the rest was great. Love it. Looking forward to the next episode!


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (February 11, 2006 5:53 PM) : 

Thanks for the feedback...

Yeah, I noticed that twisted pronoun usage myself. What made it worse was that I had originally written this in 1st person perspective, then decided to change it to 3rd to match the rest of the stories. That really didn't help the "he, him, himself" confusion.

Oh well, the joys of learning through amateur writing...


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (February 12, 2006 3:16 AM) : 

Also, I forgot to mention the picture at the top. I assume you made that too. Very cool.

Must be nice to be author and illustrator at the same time. :-)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (February 12, 2006 6:05 AM) : 

A scaled down wallpaper-ish pic does not an illustrator make. If I could do my own illustrating, I'd be writing my own graphic novels...

But thanks, just the same. Thought it'd help as an eye catcher at the front of a long post of text...


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