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
At some point in my life, I would love to take a week of vacation and visit Italy. Romance, pizza, wine. There couldn’t be a place more opposite of Seal Bay with its fog, weird smells drifting in from the ocean, and lack of anything to do. If it wasn’t for the computer business keeping me busy, I might have fallen off the ledge of sanity a long time ago.
I would also like to attend the Masters in Augusta and quite possibly star in an action movie with Tom Cruise. Those are some items I jotted down one night after work when Dena suggested I come up with a bucket list. At first I brushed it off as being one step above stupid, but after fifteen minutes, I was thoroughly enjoying the process.
I’ve gone over it several times, and nowhere on the sheet of paper have I penned the desire to get shot in the face.
I’ve tried to live a decent life and not be mean to others. I’ve helped little old ladies cross the street. I adopted a cat once that was two hours away from getting euthanized. A week later, it attacked my leg, and I not-so-gently removed it from my home. I go to church sometimes, and I don’t drink anymore. I feel I’ve done my part to make this world a better place to live in.
I couldn’t think of any reason my life should be snuffed out at such an early age.
As Lance squeezed the trigger with the intent of sending me into the afterlife, I closed my eyes. I’ve often wondered what would flash through my mind in such a moment. People say in the arms of imminent death, their lives scroll by in hurried bits and fragments of memories. Like scenes from a movie, their best and worst times scroll by in a matter of seconds. Some suffer from painful regret while others are quite pleased with the things they accomplished.
Either way, the majority of people view these final moments with a certain sense of dread and hopelessness as they realize they suddenly have no control over their own destiny. They offer a quick prayer to a higher power hoping their lives meant something in the big scheme of things and that one day their descendants will speak of them with the utmost respect and love.
As I waited on death to shuffle the cards and deal me a rotten hand, I felt oddly at peace. Sure, there were so many more things I wanted to do in life, but if my time had come and the bucket list was a lesson in futility, I would face the end with dignity and whatever honor I had left. The baggage from my past contained plenty of mistakes, but I had spent years cleaning them up the best way I knew how.
The “click” following the trigger pull was sweeter than a multitude of angels singing in my ear. Either the hammer had fallen on an empty chamber in the revolver, or Lance had not invested in quality ammunition. Regardless of which conclusion was correct, I didn’t have hot lead drilling a tunnel through my forehead. For that, I was extremely grateful.
Immediately, after realizing the grim reaper had not claimed my soul, I heard an explosion and then a cracking sound as table pieces flew up around me. Another boom and something whizzed by my left ear. As I dropped to the floor in search of cover, Lance bolted from our booth and raced toward the back exit, blindly triggering off rounds in my direction.
People screamed and started running out the front door, despite Summer’s pleas to remain calm and orderly. I thought I heard Jimmy yell out, but I wasn’t sure over all the commotion.
Apparently, Sam spotted Lance with the gun in his hand and decided to shoot first and ask questions later. His intentions were noble and most certainly warranted, but one day I’ll have to thank him for nearly killing me in the process. Had he missed his mark by only a mere fraction of an inch, I would have been forced to join our beloved dog Charlie in his club for those unfortunate souls missing an ear.
“Dillon!” Sam knelt down to look at me under the table. “You okay?”
It was the first time I remembered seeing Sam Dresden without a smile on his face. Slow to anger and a person who always saw the glass half full, there wasn’t anyone he wouldn’t talk to and befriend. For being somewhat overweight, which he always referred to as permanent pudginess, not fat, he was remarkably quick and light-footed. He worked out on a daily basis, and the tree trunks he called arms were rock solid.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answered, somewhat unsure. “You get him?”
Sam crouched in a shooters stance and gripped his gun with both hands. “I don’t think so. I got more table than anything.” Keeping one eye on the rear exit, he looked me over. “Who is that guy?”
“It’s Lance Puckett.”
“That’s not possible. Lance is in prison on death row. Every one knows that.”
“I know how crazy it sounds, Sam, but it’s him. I didn’t believe it at first, but I do now. I talked to him. I looked into his eyes. Trust me, it’s him.”
Sam frowned. “It can’t be, Dillon. He was three thousand miles away in a maximum security prison. How did he get out?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Why did he come back?”
“To prove his innocence.”
“He’s got a funny way of doing it. Coming back, shooting up my town. There’s no way he’s walking out of Seal Bay alive. You stay here.” Cautiously, Sam moved to the back door which remained open after Lance fled. He disappeared outside.
I climbed to my feet and stood on trembling knees. After nearly eating a bullet, I wasn’t sure I could walk. I wanted to check on Summer, but everyone had rushed from the cafe with the arrival of Sam. I turned with the intent of searching for my friends and froze when I heard the shot.
I looked at the back door, unsure of who would walk through. I couldn’t remember how many shots Lance had fired. He said he found the gun in the woman’s glove box. He might not have had enough time to secure additional ammo.
In horror, I watched as a bloody hand gripped the inside of the door frame.
I stood transfixed on the rear entrance of the cafe and never heard Jimmy approach. “Dillon, are you okay? What happened? Where’s Sam?”
I couldn’t speak. I held my breath and waited for either a successful Sheriff to return, or our worst nightmare. I prayed mere bullets would be enough to stop Lance Puckett. If he was indeed a ghost or apparition, the weapons of this world would prove useless in our defense.
Survival instinct pleaded for me to grab Jimmy and find more suitable cover. If fate revealed Lance as the contestant behind door number one, we were dead. There would be no consolation prize.
Jimmy followed my gaze. “Oh, crap.” He took a step backward.
Blind luck, or maybe divine intervention, had granted me asylum from death’s cold kiss once already. I’m not a card carrying member of the feline community with eight spare lives in my wallet, so I doubted another reprieve would materialize ever again.
“Dillon?” Jimmy grabbed my shoulder. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to pull me away, or use me as a human shield. For the most part, I’m quite confident he would try to remove me from harm’s way before thrusting me directly into its path. There is always that small doubt that, in extreme circumstances, it might turn into every man for himself.
I hoped the depths of our friendship would not be tested.
Before I could acknowledge my friend, Sam fell into the doorway, clutching his right arm. Along with my distaste of guns, seeing blood, outside of a Hollywood production, has the same effect as ramming a finger down my throat. Despite that, the invisible grip of immobility released me, and I moved into action. “Jimmy, call 911! Get an ambulance here now! Tell them Lance ran out the back of Mel’s, and he’s armed.”
As I reached Sam’s side, I heard Jimmy barking into the phone. I grabbed the Sheriff under both arms and dragged him to the booth. “Where are you hit?”
He grimaced as I inspected his arm. Blindfolded, I could tear apart and fix computers, but was clueless when it came to the human body. “Below the shoulder,” Sam answered. “It’s a flesh wound. Nothing serious. Need to…stop bleeding…get something…to tie it off.”
“Ambulance is on its way.” I slipped my belt off and knelt to the floor. Wrapping the band around the area just above the wound, I fastened it tight. He groaned as color continued to drain from his face. “That should stop the bleeding until the paramedics get here. Where’s your gun?”
“I don’t know. I think I dropped it outside.”
“That’s not good. How many shots does Lance have left?”
Sam closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. The pain washed over him in waves. “Not sure. One, maybe two. I couldn’t tell if he reloaded or not.”
“Where did he go after he shot you?”
“Around…front…he tried to kill me…stop him…” His breathing became more labored.
“Sam, don’t try and talk. Take it easy.”
Jimmy ended the phone call and rushed over. “Dillon? Is he okay?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know, I’m no doctor. He said it was just a flesh wound, so I guess he’s okay.” I grabbed the front of Jimmy’s shirt and pulled him close. “Stay here with Sam and keep that belt tight. We have to control the bleeding.”
“I got this, dude. I won’t let anything happen to him.”
I stood up and looked around.
“Where are you going?” Jimmy asked.
“I need to find Sam’s gun.” I feared Lance had already procured the dropped weapon. My heart hammered louder than thumping rotors of a helicopter screaming across tree tops. I would probably pass out in a useless heap when my adrenaline quit pumping.
“Be careful, man. Lance is off his rocker. If he has no problem shooting a sheriff, he won’t hesitate to blow you away.”
I was thankful for Jimmy and his friendship. He was two years older than me by a couple months, but I still looked up to him as one would respect an older sibling. “I may be a computer geek, but I can handle my business. You just worry about Sam.”
Jimmy smiled. “I’ve got him. And, for the record, I know you’re much more than just a computer geek. We all know that.”
“I’m no hero,” I mumbled.
“Hero has various meanings, Dillon. Just watch your back. I’ll wait for the ambulance.”
I nodded and started for the back door. Screams erupted from the front of Mel’s, followed closely by two rapid explosions. Every bit of color drained from Jimmy’s face. “Gunshots.” He jumped to his feet. “Dena!”
I grabbed his arm. “Wait! Jimmy, you’ve got to stay here. I’ll go around from the back and see what’s happening.”
He started to resist, but thankfully decided to remain inside. “Don’t let that animal hurt her, Dillon. If something happens, he’s going to wish he had never left prison.”
“I won’t.” I peeked out the door. Lance was nowhere to be seen. Just a few steps from the corner of the building, I found Sam’s Glock 9MM. I picked it up and made sure a cartridge was chambered. I released the clip and counted five more rounds. I slammed the magazine home and crept along the side wall.
It was time to end this.