Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tales of the Stranger: Episode 10, Part 2

Here we go with part 2 of Episode 10. This one came together pretty easy, but I'm having a tougher time with part 3, so we'll see where it goes. This one is a bit longer too, with a word count over 2000. So, enjoy if you can, and comments - good, bad, or ugly - are always welcome...

Fuse by Eaglewing

Down at the court house they're ringin' the flag down
Long black line of cars snakin' slow through town
Red sheets snappin' on the line
With this ring will you be mine
The fuse is burning, Shut out the lights
The fuse is burning, Come on let me do you right

THEN, Years Ago…

The rising hill road was covered in settling dust that sparkled in the moonlight. It wound past a cemetery that overlooked the torn up city down in the valley below. A lone young man stood in the yard, staring at markers naming those that had meant something to him. Tempers, greed, and stupidity had conspired to take them away, and he had played his part, a part called failure.

He had been part of the gang that started a war that they couldn’t finish, and the cost had been high. Way higher than he ever thought imaginable. Bullets fired with intent had found their marks, and that would have been bad enough. But it was the stray ones that went places they weren’t supposed to and found those that were innocent that hurt the most. He had been warned, but he was an angry young man that didn’t think past the end of his own being. That had been rudely and cruelly changed when he buried the last family he’d had along with the family he was going to have. If only he’d stayed that night. The ring he’d given her was six feet under now, ‘cause that’s how he’d meant it. She wasn’t supposed to be there, but – he abruptly shook his head. He couldn’t play that film on his memory’s screen yet again.

Hoisting his surplus army sack packed with everything he owned over his shoulder; he stared down the hill at the town he had called home, and whispered “Goodbye.” Then he walked out of the graveyard to the dusty road. He really had every intention to walk away from all he’d known and never come back, but he still had his reservations. It wasn’t like he knew anything else but the gang and the streets. Where was he going to go from here?

He looked up as a dusty black ’68 Ford Cougar broke the silence of the night and roared up the road towards him, coming to a stop in front of him. The driver leaned over and rolled down the window.

“Hey there, buddy, could you help me out? Looking for a place to eat and gas up. Anything good in that town down there?”

The young man leaned into the car window, looking at another man close in age and noticed the cowboy hat and crazy grin the driver wore. “No, man, you don’t want to go down there.” He turned and looked back as he spoke. “Nothin’ good in that town.”

It was then that the driver realized he was stopped in front of a cemetery. He grew suddenly serious. “Hey man, I didn’t see…I’m sorry if I interrupted something here.”

“No, no you didn’t. I was just saying goodbye, and thinking about leaving. Was just about to start walking when you came along, so don’t worry about it.”

“Well, do you need a lift? I’ll give you a ride if you need one. Where you headed?”

“I don’t know, hadn’t thought that far. Hadn’t thought of the actual leaving…” The young man shook his head, taking another look back at the grave markers as it slowly kept sinking in that he was alone now.

The cowboy behind the wheel saw the body language and the hesitation. But he had seen something else, something still alive, in the young man’s eyes. And he knew moving on was essential to living, or so his yet untested young mind thought.

“I don’t know what happened man, but I can see you’re asking yourself a lot of questions. Try this one – is there anything back there worth staying, or worth dying for?”

The man on the side of the road shook his head as he quietly whispered, “No, I guess there really isn’t anymore…”

“Well then,” began the driver quietly. “Come on, I’ll give you a lift. Try to get back to doing some living further on up the road.”

Neither one said anything for the next several minutes. For some reason, the driver felt it was important that he wait patiently, so he did. The young man had a decision to make, and in time he made one. Looking away from the grave markers and back at the cowboy, he nodded in agreement. Opening the car door, he tossed the sack onto the back seat before climbing in.

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” He put his hand out towards the driver. “The name is Sonny. And who might you be stranger?”

NOW, Years To Go…

The Stranger smiled at the memory of the first time he had met Sonny. They turned out to be two of a kind, raising hell and taking names. They were partners, covering each other’s backs through all the rest of the adventures they’d have. And so it was now, as the Stranger was doing what a partner would. Sonny had known the gang war battles and the high and useless costs. He wouldn’t hesitate to try to turn it around for someone else if he could. But Sonny wasn’t here, so it was up to the Stranger, and he’d honor Sonny’s memory by doing what he could. Having followed the girl back to her building, he had eyeballed the obvious Bobby during their rather heated hellos. He was hoping Jamie would be able to do some heavy duty convincing, but he wasn’t counting on it. He knew what loyalty to a friend meant. Either way, he didn’t have much time before all hell broke loose, and he’d need every minute of it. Time for some recon, and with a little luck, a face to face with this Tiny, whoever he might be…

Blood moon risin' in a sky of black dust
Tell me Baby who do you trust?
The fuse is burning, Shut out the lights
The fuse is burning, Come on let me do you right

In the sparse, second floor, dingy apartment bedroom, the words flew fast back and forth, as Bobby and Jamie tried to convince the other of what needed to be done. He was telling her he couldn’t let a friend down. He was a man that needed to do what needed to be done, to do what was right, even if the cost was high. It was about honor, about friendship, about being something different than what passed for the definition of being a man in these parts. And she could see it, but she wasn’t having it either. She was asking him to walk away from Tiny, from the code he carried. She was asking him to stay alive. It wasn’t going well.

“What good am I then?” shouted Bobby. “What kind of a friend – what kind of a man – would I be to let him walk into that with no one to cover his back? No one he can count on. That’s not who I am, and how could I live with myself if I let him die like that? A man’s gotta be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day! Don’t you get that?”

“Yes, Bobby, I do. But you’ll be killed! Can’t you see that you can’t save him? That he’s made his choice? You have to walk away from this. Stay here with me, please! I need you to do this for me, I – ”

He cut her off. “Walk away?! This is my life, Tiny’s life! You don’t have to face this. You can stay here and you’ll live on just fine. But you want me to just walk away and leave him for dead? What could make me stay here and let a friend down like that? What good would I be to you if I did that? How can I let fall everything I am? Tell me that!”

She paused, knowing the next words had to be right. She felt so much in that moment, and could feel things coming to a bad end. Tears started to fall down her cheeks as she quietly whispered with everything she had left in her soul.

“I love you, Bobby. I just love you. I could live without you if I had to, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to know what that’s like. I don’t want to feel that. I may be able to live on, but I won’t be alive. Don’t you get that?”

And the words stopped. He stared at her; she stared at him. It hit him hard, hearing her say the words he had long hoped to hear someday. It burned within her, to be asking him in the name of survival to forsake the very thing that made her fall for him in the first place – what made him a man. Each could see the other’s point, but neither could see a way around it. And maybe there wasn’t. They could both feel the time running out on them, and neither was ready for that.

He moved first, and she didn’t hesitate to follow. He pulled her to him in a heated embrace. Tired arms pulled each other closer with renewed strength, lips locking together in desperation. If time was up and this was it, if this was all there was left for them, then it was time to make it count.

Tires on the highway hissin' that something's coming
You can feel the wires in the tree tops hummin'
Devil's on the horizon line
Your kiss and I'm alive

Quiet afternoon an empty house
On the edge of the bed you slip off your blouse
The room is burning with the noon sun
Your bittersweet taste on my tongue
The fuse is burning, Shut out the lights
The fuse is burning, Come on let me do you right

The gunshots ripped a hole through the silence of the night. Gang members were falling all around, bullets flying through the air to punch bloody holes into human flesh. He yelled to Tiny, but he was too late. The red spray flew through the air as Bobby screamed and watched the life go out of his best friends eyes. Then the never-ending hail of bullets found him, slicing through any chance he’d ever have. As he fell to the dirt, he looked up to see Jamie, reaching for him, but too far away. He’d lost. He’d lost it all…

Then Bobby’s eyes flew open, awakened from a nightmare into a dream. The feel of Jamie’s touches was burned into his skin, and as he awoke with her in his arms, he realized he was suddenly faced with a terrible choice. He finally had everything he ever wanted, laying next to him, giving him hope with every breath of hers on his skin. And yet, he had a friend out in the streets who was no doubt going to die tonight if he didn’t do something. And if he did do something, the chances were beyond high that he’d never get back to this dream again.

She felt the tension flow through his muscles, and she awoke with a feeling of dread. Slowly lifting her head, she turned to look into his eyes. Her heart broke at what she saw there – he had made a choice, and by her, it was the wrong one. She pulled back quickly, and he slid out of bed.

“No!” Jamie cried. “Don’t go, Bobby, please don’t go. I can’t lose you!”

“I can’t, baby, I just can’t leave him. I gotta do what I gotta do, it’s who I am, and I owe him. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for him. He saved my life, and I gotta watch his back. I owe him that much.”

She was shaking her head, watching him pull clothes on and grab his guns. He kept talking, “Stay here, I’ll be back. I will make it back, darlin’, I will. I’ll get us out of here, out of this, but you gotta trust me. I love ya, baby…” And he was gone.

She pulled the sheet up to her chest, sitting alone on the bed as the minutes ticked by. How could he do it? Then she answered her own question and made up her mind. Slipping off the bed, she went to the dresser and pulled out a small handgun Bobby had given her some time ago for protection on these rough streets. Then she began pulling on her jeans and a sweatshirt, found her shoes, and hit the door running. Because of loyalty to friendship, Bobby couldn’t let Tiny walk into a war zone alone. But she loved her man, and she couldn’t let Bobby walk into one alone either. They needed to be together, right or wrong, dead or alive…

To Be Continued…

Lyrics from the song:
"The Fuse", written by Bruce Springsteen
Album: The Rising

Comments on "Tales of the Stranger: Episode 10, Part 2"


Anonymous originallru said ... (May 18, 2007 9:42 PM) : 

Wow. Great story. Just got around to reading this episode, and it's fantastic.

While this one is longer than most, for some reason it still felt too short. Maybe it's just because I want to read more. :-) But this one had more explanation-style prose than conversation, and maybe that affected the flow. Still, this is nitpicking, and I really don't know what I would do to make it better. :-)

The only part that I didn't think felt right was when the girl said flat out that she could live without him, but didn't want to. Perhaps this is a stereotype, but that doesn't strike me as something a girl would say... more like something a guy would say. When she cries out later, "I can't lose you!" that rang true for me.

But the final action, where she follows him into battle is right on, in my opinion. It follows the character's personality of a headstrong woman, emotionally rushing into a battle that she probably has little experience in fighting, and complicating the whole night even more. Makes for a great story! :-)

Looking forward to the next one!


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (May 21, 2007 3:22 AM) : 

Thanks for the nice comments.

I thought the "live without you" line was more of a thing one would say in an argument. Trying to change the other persons mind while being somewhat supportive and not issuing imperatives. Whereas when he gets up to leave later, the reaction is from the gut, without thought, and the truth comes out. That's how I was looking at it anyway.

I'm looking forward to the next one too. Whens it coming out? ;-)


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