Monday, December 25, 2006

Tales of the Stranger: Episode 8 (A Prequel)

Due to unprecedented non-demand, The Stranger is back! Well, sort of. I can't leave the Stranger character alone, and this was just an idea I had for a one off story, so I put it together quick (you can tell it was quick) to have a Stranger Christmas story. Be warned, it isn't a soft and fuzzy "Santa sliding down the chimney" kind of story. It's the kind of story you get when I'm on a Garth Ennis graphic novel kick :)

It's set as a prequel, before the first 1 of 7 Stranger stories that started this thing. As the title suggests, it's from the years he was on the road, the stray years in between. Enjoy if you can, comments of any kind welcome...

A Stranger Christmas by Eaglewing

The stars lit up the sky, one bigger and brighter than the others. Together, they shed light on the desperate situation far below them.

Red and blue lights flashed incessantly, lighting up the dark snowy air as police cruisers converged on the city park. Urgent voices filled the air as officer after officer arrived at the scene. One older man, a sergeant, took control of the chaos.

"Ok, listen up! We have confirmed ident that the child is still alive! Witnesses saw the kid being taken into the park towards the tunnels less than fifteen minutes ago by a man who fits the description of our serial kidnapper." Pointing at several others, he continued. "You guys close off the exits, the rest spread out and lets circle this S.O.B. and grab him before he can do any more damage. Remember, he's dangerous, he's known to carry a knife and probably a gun, so no heroes! Two by two, no one alone. Let's move!"

The mayhem spread out in a remarkably controlled fashion as the officers followed orders. Kids had been getting snatched lately with spiraling ransom demands, and the whole town was on edge. One kid had escaped, providing a description, but this was as close as anyone had got to nabbing the kidnapper. The urgency the officers felt at this point was an understatement. So it was no surprise that they were too focused on the direction they thought the suspect had gone to notice a lone man on a higher ridge watching the scene intently. His dark clothes blended him into the night, but a closer look would have revealed the man hunched into his coat against the cold, collar turned up and his ever-present cowboy hat pulled as low as possible. An even closer look would have revealed the set jaw and the narrowing eyes. He had heard every frantic word below, and knew his usual method of 'passing through' would have to wait tonight.

He turned away from the cops, noise, and light and started to quickly flank the spreading out patrol while staying to the cover of the night. He didn't know the terrain as well as he should for a mission like this, but that couldn't be helped. Time, weather, and terrain were against him, but those weren't the factors that would win this battle tonight. What would, he had in spades.

Breaking through an ineffective gap in the police dragnet, he moved ahead of the oncoming officers. Sure, they were moving quickly, but they were still following procedures. He wasn't. Old, never forgotten skills rolled to the front of his mind as he moved even quicker frantically hunting for a trace, for any sign of a trail. There had to be one. The snow was thick on the ground and still coming down. There would be a trail, and he had to find it first.

He did.

The trail led down a ravine into a drainage tunnel. He followed it down and sliding to a stop he came to the mouth of the dark cement drainage pipe. His only light source was a lighter he had in his pocket, and he had no clue where these tunnels went. This wasn't good. He had no recon, no intel, no time, and no clue of what he was walking into. He paused for just a second, did a quick rethink of why he was out here to begin with and came to the same conclusion for the umpteenth time that he didn't matter anyway. He was a lost cause, but there was a kid at stake who wasn't.

Snarling low, he plunged into the darkness.


The kid sat on the cold wet cement watching the unknown man who had grabbed him earlier. They had gone through a couple tunnels, and the kid knew they were in some kind of underground room. He wasn't tied up, but he knew he wasn't going anywhere either.

"What are you going to do with me?"

"Whatever I want." Came the surly answer.

The kid decided not to say anything more, and instead closed his eyes. He thought of his Mom and Dad and sister at home. It was Christmas Eve, and he should be in bed like he usually was each year, eagerly awaiting what Santa would bring. But this year, something had gone really wrong when they were out shopping for Christmas gifts, and now he wasn't home where he should be.

He knew he was going to need help to get out of here and get home in time for Christmas morning. Thinking it over carefully, he knew just Who to ask for help. He barely got the words thought out before the surly man spoke again.

"Time for you now." He towered over the young boy, a true menace.

The kid was scared, but he closed his eyes and believed.

Then the door exploded off its hinges, flew inward, and crashed to the floor. As the dust settled, the kid opened one eye and looked up to see a Stranger in a cowboy hat staring down the surly man above him.

"Back away from the kid." It was said in a low rumble, like a mountain volcano getting ready to erupt.

The surly kidnapper stepped away from the boy and towards the Stranger. He looked closely at the intruding cowboy. He spoke in an odd manner, focusing intently on the Stranger, looking at his eyes. "We are the same, aren't we? We are not uncomfortable to the darkness, are we?"

"No way in hell are we the same," muttered the Stranger, stepping in closer, content to keep the kidnapper's attention on him for the time being. Fixing the man in front of him with a steely gaze, the Stranger continued. "We might both be comfortable in the darkness, but what you’re doing is off the map, way off the deep end. Thing is, you surrendered to it, didn’t you? You love it, and want more of it. I can see it in your eyes. Me, I'm still fighting it; I still know there is a light. But you can't go and do the things you're doing, so I'm here to make sure you stop for good. You want darkness, I'll give it to you."

The kidnapper seemed to suddenly awake to the very real threat in front of him. In a swift move, he pulled a knife from behind him and slashed outward. The Stranger blocked the knife arm, chopped the knife away with the other hand, then laid out the attacker with a brutal uppercut that connected hard. The kidnapper slumped to the ground, stunned.

The Stranger looked at the kid. "Go outside. Now. But wait outside the door, ok? It's dark and you'll get lost in the tunnels if you go runnin', but I'll walk you out of here. Just wait for me outside, ok?" The boy nodded and walked outside the room. The Stranger checked to be sure the boy stayed put, then went back into the room and closed the door.

There was scuffling and grunting heard from inside as the Stranger got some answers. Then it went very quiet. A few minutes later, he came back out, then knelt down to the boy's eye level. "You ok, kid? You hurt?"

"I'm ok, but I wanna go home."

"So do I, kid…so do I. Let's go."

The Stranger fired up the lighter for the kid's sake and proceeded to guide them out of the tunnels. As they got to the opening, the Stranger stopped and knelt down again. He handed the boy a piece of paper.

"Ok, you can go from here. See all those policemen up that hill. You run to them and they'll take you home, ok? But give them this paper first." The boy nodded, then looked back down the dark tunnel. The Stranger noticed and continued, "You don't have to be scared. He can never hurt you again. I made sure of that, ok? Don't worry about him. You did good, you were very brave."

The kid nodded, then looked at the Stranger for a minute before speaking. "Who are you?"

The Stranger chuckled. Seemed everyone asked him that. He shook his head and looked back at the boy. "Santa's bodyguard. He thought you needed me more tonight."

The kid didn't laugh, just looked at the Stranger funny, then shook his head. "No, I don't think you are. Santa doesn't need a bodyguard, everyone likes him. Besides, he wasn't the One I asked for help. Somebody else sent you. He knew you were the right one who could help me. But He always knows that kind of stuff. It’s His birthday, you know. Oh, and thanks. My Mom says I gotta say thanks for stuff."

Then just that quick, the boy headed off towards the police officers, calling out an unexpected “Merry Christmas!” back over his shoulder to the Stranger.

“Merry Christmas, kid,” The Stranger whispered, before quickly retreating to more shadowy high ground, away from what would be very inquiring eyes.

He watched the police converge on the boy, and the shouts of "He's here! I found him!" go up into the night air. Then more shouts as the cops read the note. “What stranger? Hey, the kid’s got a map! There’s rooms. There’s more kid’s down here. Hurry!” Then more lights were trained into the area and onto the tunnel as it all became a flurry of activity. That was the Stranger's cue to leave.

As he crested the hill, silhouetted against the snowy starlit sky, he looked back. He thought about what the boy had said. Could he really have been sent out here for a reason? Were people like him necessary to the balance of the world? Was it possible this dark sea of heavy weight he carried every day was being used for a purpose? That maybe not all was lost, that Somebody had a hand in this mess? It was a thought, and he had plenty of time on his hands to think.

He glanced up at the sky, finding that one brighter star, and decided to head in that direction. Then he slipped quietly into the shadows again, walking on, one foot in front of the other, wondering why things happened like they did and where it would all lead. He sure didn't know, but he was going to keep going until his troubled soul found some peace...

The End.

Comments on "Tales of the Stranger: Episode 8 (A Prequel)"


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (December 29, 2006 1:36 AM) : 

I finally got a chance to read this story.

I like it! Glad to see that there are more Stranger stories up your sleeve. :-) More, more!

You asked for comments, there was one main place where it felt a little awkward:

The Stranger looked at the kid. "Go outside. Now. But wait outside the door, ok? It's dark and you'll get lost in the tunnels if you go runnin', but I'll walk you out of here. Just wait for me outside, ok?"

I don't know about you, but I don't think there would be time for that many words in the middle of a fight like that. Maybe something shorter: The Stranger motioned the kid to get behind him. "Stay by the door!" he ordered. He didn't want the kid to get lost yet, too.

Nice Christmas story though, Stranger style. I eagerly look forward to the next episode!


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (December 29, 2006 1:43 AM) : 

One more idea, for a future story, perhaps, or a book. These short stories make it hard to go into great detail about what you mean by "darkness."

In the context of this story, it could get confusing. I think I know what you mean though, in that sometimes when life keeps battering you, like for the Stranger, it's hard to keep trying to be good when it's easier to just give up and do whatever you want.

That isn't fully explained in the story, and I guess it can't really be done very well in a short time frame. But in a longer story, you could fill pages with his mental processes, and perhaps the mental processes of the bad guy too. You could show the reader what thoughts were similar, and which were different.

That might be an intense undertaking for a fictional story, but could be an interesting read.

Just my $0.02. :-)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (December 29, 2006 5:52 AM) : 

thanks for the comments and tips. I knew that segment was a little out of place, but like I said, I wrote it quick to put it up on Christmas :) Not much time for a beta test...

And yes, the longer story is percolating...the prequel/sequel is there that would lay out the whole 'darkness' thing, but I just have to figure out how best to do it...


Anonymous Bookworm said ... (January 08, 2007 6:38 PM) : 

This is a test. Testing this comment possibility...


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