The Stranger – Chapter One


The Stranger was the first novella I published on the Amazon Kindle store. It’s currently for sale at a whopping $.99. I’ve decided to post it here, on my blog, in it’s entirety, for free. I am passionate about writing posts that demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus and what He’s doing in my life, but I also love writing fiction.

Here’s the plan. For the next ten weeks, I will post a chapter each Friday. Let’s call it Fiction Friday. Feel free to hashtag the crap out of that. I hope you enjoy the story. If you like this one, I have a couple more on Amazon. You can find them here: Author Page

Chapter One

The day the stranger came into town was intriguing, to say the least. Most folks around here don’t pay much attention to drifters, but there was something familiar about the man, and he rose more than a few eyebrows. Seal Bay is a small, very close-knit community that is usually missed by anyone driving through because they either sneezed or glanced down at their speedometer.

They say the phrase “one-horse town” was recorded for the first time in 1857. I’m thinking it was most likely a relative way back in my family lineage who coined the expression when he settled here. I can’t imagine there was much room for anything more than one horse.

It’s not the first place that comes to mind when planning a vacation or deciding where to retire, so when a new face blows in, everyone notices. When you resemble a man who committed the worst act of violence in Seal Bay history a little over eight years ago, you’re certain to attract some stares.

When I heard he had returned, I knew that day would change into the darkest of my life. For eight years, I had successfully pushed the memories further and further away until they were nothing more than dull thoughts that surfaced on occasion, much like the whales that visit our bay once a year.

It took more time than I desired, but the nightmares eventually stopped haunting me. Serenity once again covered our community as folks resumed their normal lives.

Along the shores of the Pacific Ocean, this sleepy borough is home to a semi famous writer, a has-been rock star, and one pitiful looking dog named Charlie, who is missing his left ear and one hind leg. It’s unclear exactly what happened to poor Charlie, but he is known and loved by everyone.

Sports teams have their mascots. Millionaires have their luxury homes and ten car garages. We have Charlie. A woman named Celeste from a magazine in California drove 200 miles up the coast just to get an interview with Charlie’s owner. Since the dog isn’t claimed by any one person, she spoke with almost everyone in town. No one checked to confirm the story’s publication.

My name is Dillon Bledsoe. I run a highly successful computer repair business in this town where I was born and raised. I left for three years while exploring my options in the Marines, but choosing not to pursue a military career, I returned home. I was married for a while, but that didn’t work out. Apparently, I was the only one in the relationship who believed in remaining faithful.

It’s funny how much you can know about a person, but wake up one day and realize they aren’t at all the image of perfection that once inhabited your dreams. The promises that provided the foundation for a relationship in trust, crumbled like sifting sand through a broken hourglass. Those bridges were long past just being burned. They were utterly annihilated.

After staring down the loaded barrel of a whiskey bottle every night for the next five years, I decided to sober up and make something of myself. I’ve been clean for seven hundred and thirty days and don’t intend to drink another drop of alcohol the rest of my life. I had just turned thirty-three and could finally say things were going well.

Creating ripples like a stone tossed into a peaceful lake, fate has a way of disturbing our uneventful lives. The day was progressing just like any other until my sponsor, Jimmy Burns, dropped by my shop and brought along some alarming news.

I was elbow deep in motherboards and hard drives when he walked in. “Jimmy!” He looked a little paler than normal. Wearing ripped jeans and a tee shirt that read Don’t Take Life Seriously, he casually strolled over to my workbench. He glanced nervously around the room. “You okay?” I asked.

“Hey man.” We shook hands. Jimmy was two years older than me and one of the most influential people in my life. He stuck by my side through every one of the twelve steps. He encouraged me when things got rough, he kicked my butt into gear when I wanted to give up, and became my best friend in the process.

The strange look darkening his blue eyes disturbed me. “What’s going on?”

“Did you get my text?” Jimmy picked up a stick of computer memory, looked it over with a frown, and returned it to the table.

Earlier that morning, I received a text that simply said we need to talk. “Yeah, I got it. Nothing like a cryptic message to start my day. What do we need to talk about? You’re not sick, are you?”

“Did you see who came into town this morning?”

“Nah, I’ve been here since five. I’m so backed up with these jobs that should have already been done. I haven’t even stopped to eat anything yet this morning. Who is it?”

“It’s either Lance Puckett or his identical twin brother.”

“That’s impossible.”

Eight years ago on Halloween night, the unthinkable happened in our peaceful town. Lance Puckett went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of six high school girls. Endless hours of therapy behind bars failed to produce a reason. The doctors finally came to the only conclusion they could all agree on. Lance had snapped after losing both parents in a terrible car accident.

A couple of years later, rumors emerged that the boy had also been responsible for their deaths. There was never enough evidence to support such a charge, but gossip is like pulling the pin and throwing a grenade. Once it’s been tossed, there’s no taking it back.

Each girl had been brutally beaten and murdered. He methodically loaded them one by one into the back of his pickup truck and proceeded to dump their bodies into the bay. Witnesses recognized the vehicle, and when all was said and done, Lance was sentenced to death by the electric chair. He remained silent throughout the trial, showing no emotion. On the day of sentencing, he spat at the gathered spectators and announced he was a messenger of death sent to bring the world to an end. Attempting to prove insanity, his lawyers battled for a re-trial but they were never given the chance.

He now waited on death row in a federal penitentiary three thousand miles away. “Jimmy, there’s no way it’s Puckett. He’s in prison. If he had escaped, I’m sure we would have heard about it by now. It would have been all over the news”

“I’m telling you, man, it’s him. You need to take a look for yourself. It’s freaky.”

I shook my head and picked up a screwdriver. “Dude, there’s not enough time in one day for me to get all my work done. I can’t waste it running around town looking for ghosts.”

Jimmy’s cell phone jingled and he flipped it open. I hound him all the time about getting rid of the dinosaur and upgrading to a smart phone. He looked up. “Dena said he’s over at Mel’s getting lunch. I’m going to go check it out. Are you coming with me?”

Although curiosity clawed at the very fiber of my being, common sense pressed on me to continue working. The past was the past. It’s impossible to travel back in time with Marty McFly and Doc Brown and change the course of history. The eight years seemed like a long time, but in the reality of life, they were merely a whisper of moments held together by a thin strand of haunting memories.

“You know you want to,” Jimmy said.

Realizing my friend wouldn’t accept anything but yes for an answer, I shook my head and put the tool down. “Okay, I’ll take thirty minutes and call it my lunch break. I can’t believe I’m getting suckered into this.”

“You’ve got to see him. I’m just sayin’.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked Jimmy. “Call Sam and have him arrest the guy for looking familiar?”

“Shut up. Come on.” I followed Jimmy out the door, and we walked down the street to the best place to eat in Seal Bay.

Mel’s Café greeted us with the smell of grilling hamburgers, baking pies and the ever present waft of cigarette smoke drifting in from the back. There were two booths designated for smoking, with only a six foot high wall separating them from the rest of the establishment.

I could never understand that concept. If you’re going to have a “separate” smoking area, why not enclose it inside an airtight glass bubble? A wall, short enough for me to climb over, is inadequate, to say the least. I told Mel about my idea one day, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him laugh so hard at anything.

Dena spotted us as we entered and not so discreetly rushed over. “He’s around the corner, sitting at that back table where I carved my name when I was thirteen. I can’t believe he came back here. Why would he do that? You think he’s here to hurt someone?”

“Dena, it’s not Lance. That’s impossible.” I put my hands up hoping the gesture would stop the runaway mouth express, but the Hoover Dam would be hard pressed to accomplish such a task.

“Well, I think it’s him. Don’t you, Jimmy?” Jimmy never had the chance to reply. “I mean, come on, no one could look that much like Lance unless it’s him. I think he’s come back for some unfinished business.” She glanced around with a look that would have made the most die-hard conspiracy theorist glow with pride.

Jimmy tried to speak and failed. “Dena-”

“Are you guys going to stand around all day or come take a look?”

“Dena-“

She grabbed Jimmy by the hand and proceeded to drag him away. He dug in and yanked her back. “Dena! Can you just shut up for a minute and let me think?”

I looked over, stunned. The expression on Dena’s face must have mirrored my own. I had never heard Jimmy talk to her that way. In fact, I couldn’t recall hearing him talk to anyone in that manner. Sure, they were brother and sister, but that was a first.

Jimmy pulled Dena toward the door and motioned for me to follow. Once outside, I managed to close my mouth, which had dropped entirely open in surprise. Dena’s expression of shock transformed into a mixed look of hurt feelings and anger.

“First of all, I’ve already seen him. You don’t have to convince me of anything. Dillon is the skeptic, not me. He needs to see for himself.”

I groaned in mock pain. “Dude, you sound as if we’re going to the zoo and gawk at some extinct animals. What is with you guys?”

Dena remained silent, still taken aback by Jimmy’s verbal lashing. She dropped her head and stared at the ground. I was tempted to offer words of encouragement, but I decide against it. We had been friends for a long time, but I would talk to her later.

A chill tingled my spine as a strong sense of trepidation pressed against the back of my neck. I felt its cold grip, but I ignored it.

Jimmy turned to me with the haunted look in his eyes once again. “Dillon, Lance Puckett is sitting in there. I’m sure of it. He’s come back to town which means he’s out of prison. I don’t know how or why he came back, but he’s here. You have to accept that.”

I shook my head. “I love you man, you know that, but you’re not making sense. There’s no way they would have released him. He’s on death row. You can’t just leave. There must be another explanation. I don’t believe it’s him.”

At that moment, Mel stumbled out of his restaurant, staring ahead at some invisible apparition of horror, pale as a piece of chalk.

 

Chris Martin

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