Friday, April 21, 2006

Tales of the Stranger: Episode 6

Well, almost at the end now of this story arc. Closest I’ve ever got to actually completing a story. :) I’ve got the last line too, now I just have to write the final episode. Enjoy episode 6 here for what it’s worth, if you can. Comments always welcome...

A Lot On The Line by Eaglewing

There was silence on the line, then a startled gasp as she realized who it was.

“Frosty?! Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me.” His voice went through the wires tired, but with resolve. Sure, he was surprised it had been her that answered the phone, but now that he had her on the line, he was determined to talk with her for a bit. Just a little while, ‘cause he hadn’t been lying when he said it was good to hear her voice.

“Where are you? Why did you…or were you calling for somebody else?” she asked, as it dawned on her that he probably hadn’t expected to get her on the line.

“Um…maybe. But not now. Not really interested in talking to anyone else.” That was the truth. He was still getting over the fact she had answered the phone. It didn’t make sense. Still, he had been wondering something for a while, so he figured he may as well ask the source, being he suddenly had the chance. “Um…how’re you doing these days?”

There was no response for a minute, then he heard the noise in the background get quiet and what sounded like a door closing. On the other end of the line, she had indeed closed the office door, and locked it, before sitting down. She had never known if she’d hear from him again, and she wasn’t about to be interrupted.

She also knew exactly what his question was alluding to, and she paused before saying, “Ok…good, you know? I mean, better than…well, good. I’m good again. Thanks.” She finally said softly.

“Good to hear. So no more wrong end of the chandelier nights, right?”

She laughed. “Right. No more of that. Now I just put one foot down and keep going, as best I can.”

Neither said anything for a second before she asked, “What about you? Find any other places to get warm or are there still those ‘lost in a snowstorm’ kind of nights?”

“Nah, still a little lost, still cold. I think that night was the only time in a long time I’ve been warm.”

She didn’t know what to say to that, so she tried for a lighthearted joke. “Well, you were the one that made the fire.”

“It wasn’t the fire.” That just kind of came out, surprising even him. He hadn’t meant to say something to that effect that fast. He thought the phone booth was suddenly getting a little warm, so he thought about changing the subject. Of course, he couldn’t hear the sudden increased heartbeat on the other end of the line, although she wouldn’t have doubted for a second if he told her he could. Before she could respond, he spoke again.

“So, how come you’re at the church? I did dial the right number, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I suppose you did. I do volunteer work here sometimes…help out with projects and things…whatever I can, I guess. The pastor and his wife helped me out a lot – even managed to keep the house – so I felt it was the least I could do.”

“That’s good. Sounds like things came together a bit for you. Told you it was worth looking around for a little help.” He laughed lightly, “I bet you even got some of those proper mailbox stickers too.”

“No...No, I didn’t.” Her voice got quiet again as she remembered seeing his message that morning. “I couldn’t cover up what you did. I see it every day, and it reminds me where I was that night and to keep going.”

He marveled quietly at that as he thought back on that morning and writing the words “One foot down” on the side of that mailbox. How did he lose sight of his own advice? It was comforting to know someone else had listened and used it though. Maybe there was a point to this disconnected maze life had to offer.

“You know,” she continued slowly, “I think about that cold night a lot. Where I was, and where I was headed. And then you…I guess I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for you. And then you were gone before I could even thank you. I thought I’d never hear from you again, and I hated that thought. I’m so glad I picked up this phone. I wish you had stayed. There’s so much I’ve wanted to say to you, ask you, and now I can’t think. So in case I don’t get another chance, let me just say, Thank You.”

That hit him harder than he thought it would. He hadn’t really spent much time thinking about how that night came to be, and how one night of his life had meant so much to one other person. He was now. It meant a lot to him to hear it. It made him think it might have all been worth it.

“Anytime, Robyn. Anytime.” He paused, and tried to think of what to say next. He wasn’t used to, or good at, the touchy feely stuff; and here he was discussing more of it in one phone call than he had in years. “Look, I’m kind of running out of quarters here. I have to go soon, but you know…um…I’ve been thinking…” He paused again.

“Yes?” She asked hopefully.

“Well, I’ve got something I still need to do, but after, I was thinking…maybe, if you wouldn’t mind an old, worn-out cowboy hanging around for a bit, maybe I’d come around sometime soon and look you up.”

He could hear the smile in her voice as she answered quickly, “I really wish you would. I wouldn’t mind at all. Really, look me up. Soon. I’ll be looking for you.”

“Ok,” he chuckled, relieved, before she spoke again. “Wait. Write down my home number…”

She told it to him and he hurriedly scribbled it down. “Ok, thanks, I got it. It was good talking with you. I’ll see you around, ok?”

“You do that. Don’t be a stranger, ok?”

It’d been a while, but he had to smile at that. “Ok. Goodbye, Robyn.”

“Goodbye.” She heard the click as the line went dead a fraction of a second too soon. “Wait!” She yelled into dead air. “What’s your name?” she whispered to no one, as she sat there still feeling the shock and newfound hope she’d see his face again.

He stepped out of that phone booth feeling better than he had in a long time. Oh, his wounds still hurt, but he didn’t mind it. For the first time in a long time, he had things to do, a purpose, and a reason. Sure, one thing would be incredibly difficult to do, and one would be incredibly easy, but he was ready to face it. He grabbed the phone book, looked up the closest bus depot, and headed that way.

He spent another night on another Greyhound catching some sleep and counting down the miles. He rode to the end of the line, and a cab ride later he was standing in front of a house of an old friend who was one of the few left from another life he still trusted. He took a look at the rising sun and hoping he wasn’t too early, he knocked on the door. An old man, aided in his walk by an even older cane, came to the door. He wore a look of mild surprise upon seeing the Stranger.

“Hey, Stranger. This is unexpected.”

“Hi, Cookie. You didn’t really think I wouldn’t make it back, did you?”

“Nah, not really. You’ve surprised me before. What’re you doin’ back?”

“Unfinished business. I need my wheels. How’s the Cougar?”

“Lonely. I did what you asked and took real good care of her. Come on out to the garage.”

The two took their time walking to the stand-alone garage at the rear of the house. Cookie didn’t asked the Stranger where he’d been or why, and the Stranger didn’t ask Cookie how things had been in the time he’d been gone. They had a history together, and Cookie had taught him a lot back in the day. However, neither one was into digging deep into other people’s affairs, and each expected the same respect in return.

Cookie opened the garage door to reveal the sleek and shiny ’68 Cougar GTE. Including the mementos in the trunk, it was the only thing the Stranger had kept from a former life, and now he needed it again. Besides, he was tired of riding buses, especially now that he was in a hurry.

Cookie handed the keys to the Stranger and smiled. “She’s been waiting for you to get back here. I used the money you sent and kept her in good shape, she’s ready to roll. I expect you got some miles to make?”

“Yep, sure do.”

“Gonna make a stop first?” It was the closest Cookie would come to prying.

“Yes. It’s why I’m back. Make it right. Then I got some place I need to be.”

“Good. I’d have had to kick your ass if you weren’t gonna stop a second time. Come in to the house, though, and grab a beer with me before you go. Then get yourself to where you need to be. Don’t be wastin’ time if you finally got it figured out.”

“Sure thing, Cookie. And thanks for what you did. I appreciate it.”

A couple hours later, the Stranger drove the Cougar to his last stop. Pulling off the road slowly onto a winding driveway, he looked around at the green grass and stone laid out on both sides of the pavement. He guided the car to the side, stopped, and put it in park, having finally narrowed the distance of this journey from miles down to mere feet.

He sat there, bone still, and looked out the car window at the gravestone marker. The engine was still running, the radio still on, as EmmyLou Harris softly wailed the Steve Earle penned tune 'Goodbye', and he couldn't stop thinking about that word. He'd been running a long time, always coming up with another reason not to come here and do this. To finally say goodbye. The engine was still running, and like before, he could just keep going and not say it.

Then he ruled it out. It wouldn’t be easy, but some things shouldn't be left unsaid, even if you weren't exactly sure the person who you were talking to could hear you.

Time to make things right.

He turned off the engine and got out. Slowly he walked to where the granite marker stood. To where she lay.

He knelt down and brushed some dirt from the stone. Taking a moment, he started to talk…

The End.

To Be Continued in this series finale, Episode 7 – Coming Soon!

Comments on "Tales of the Stranger: Episode 6"


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (April 22, 2006 2:20 AM) : 

Whoohoo! Episode 6. Nice to be surprised with some good stories.

I was playing with audacity, and actually read your story aloud into my laptop, just to see what it would be like. I butchered it of course, and unfortunately, I couldn't get the noise filtering to successfully filter out all the noise my laptop makes. There was hissing, the fan winding up and down, and hard drive clicks galore.

I guess I need a proper microphone if I'm going to spend any time doing this. And I'd have to improve my public reading skills too. :-)


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