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
A thin vein of smoke trailed from the barrel like a lithe vapor swirling in the gentle breeze. The smell of sulfur, mixed with a hint of burnt matches, assaulted my senses. The flash illuminated the thick, surrounding blackness, leaving a ghostly image seared into my vision. As the man dropped, the gun, gripped tightly in my hand and now heavy as a ship’s anchor, fell to the damp grass.
Rain fell from the foreboding sky, cold on my face. I blinked several times as if it would erase the horror that unfolded in front of me. His look of hatred as I approached had quickly turned into shock and then pain as the bullet found its mark. The spray of blood from his chest looked like a blossoming rose, casting off the cloak of earth and springing forward into life.
Or was it death? I watched a movie once where the killer would leave one red rose and a piece of paper with the words “Every ending is just another beginning” at the scene of his crimes. I shuddered with revulsion.
“What have you done?”
Riveted on the scene before me, I remained silent, numb.
“Have you killed him?”
My mother’s voice approached from behind. As the haunted whisper toyed with my neck hair, a shiver creased my shoulder blades. A chill, originating from somewhere other than the crisp air, gripped my soul. My heart pounded with a rhythm much quicker than normal as it threatened to burst.
The thunderous echo still reverberated inside my ears, pounding like a blacksmith fashioning iron on an anvil. I had never taken a life before, but the resulting feelings that churned inside my stomach were to be expected.
Nausea reared its ugly head and I dropped to my knees, emptying the contents of my stomach. My mother rushed past me as I floundered in my distress, to the motionless form of a dead man lying on the ground.
“Robert? Can you hear me? Robert?” When shaking the lifeless body resulted in no response, my mother began to slap him across the face, yelling and screaming obscenities that I’d never heard before.
“M-mom. Stop. He’s dead.”
A flash of lighting illuminated the sky followed immediately by a clap of thunder that shook the ground. I rolled onto my back and closed my eyes.
I was eleven years old when I shot and killed the man who came home drunk every night and beat my mother relentlessly. He wasn’t half the human being my real father had been. My Dad sacrificed his life in the line of duty as a police officer. A decorated hero who tragically died before I had even reached fourth grade.
The shooting was ruled accidental, and there were never any charges filed. Fearing I would be taken away forever, my mom testified that I found the gun in a dresser drawer and carried it outside. Robert had been returning from the garage where he worked on old cars, saw me with the weapon, and tried to take it from me. The trigger was pulled in the process, resulting in the man’s death.
Although only a minor, if the situation had been deemed a homicide, I could have been tried as an adult in that state. Had the events unfolded in that manner, I’m not sure where I would have ended up. I might have been the one locked up in prison, not Lance.
Pushing distant memories back into the darkened recess of my mind, I peered around the corner toward the front of Mel’s. I couldn’t see anyone, but the entrance wasn’t visible from where I stood. I would have to get closer.
In the distance, the wail of sirens sounded like a pack of wolves howling their respect to a full moon. The butt of Sam’s 9MM felt foreign, yet comfortable in my hand. With a tightened grip, I whispered a quick prayer and started around the front.
I stopped as something hard pressed into the base of my skull. Without looking, I knew it was Lance holding his gun to my head. My brain started to calculate the time it would take to spin and make a move, but the sinking sensation in my gut overruled it immediately.
“No sudden movements, Dillon. Let’s not make this more complicated than it already is. Slowly drop your gun, or should I say Sam’s gun, to the ground.”
Unsure why I decided to act cocky, I gritted my teeth. “And if I don’t?”
Lance didn’t hesitate. “I’ll blow your head off. I already shot Sam. There’s nothing stopping me from killing you.”
He made an excellent point. I dropped the gun as ordered and put my hands up. “Okay, you’ve got me. Now what?”
Lance grabbed my shoulder and forced me to turn around. “We go this way.”
We walked in the opposite direction from the front of Mel’s, where I assumed everyone was still gathered waiting to see what happened next. We hurried past an empty storage building behind the cafe and down to the road. Around a curve sat a late model, beige sedan.
Lance pointed to the driver’s side. “Get in.”
“Where are we going?”
“Just get in the car and shut up.” We entered the vehicle and Lance motioned forward. “That way.” He rested the gun on his lap, but kept it aimed in my general direction. If fired, a bullet would not necessarily kill me, but it would undoubtedly hit me somewhere, and that would be enough to stop any thought of overtaking my captor.
After starting the car and pulling away from the curb, I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, seething inside. I had been careless in allowing Lance to get the drop on me. We were driving North, out of Seal Bay. That was the only decent thing my mistake had produced. At least my friends and everyone would be safe for the moment.
I glanced over at the passenger seat. His grip on the gun had relaxed, but his finger still rested against the trigger. His face was as unreadable as a book with blank pages. “So where are we going, Lance? Why are you doing all of this?”
He stared straight ahead. “Do you believe in fate?”
It wasn’t how I pictured the conversation might unfold. In fact, I had never thoroughly prepared myself for being kidnapped and forced into driving to an unknown location. Lance had taken me entirely out of my comfort zone and into a world I only read about in my fiction.
If his actions stemmed from psychological imbalance or a recurrence of suppressed memories, he would need a shrink, not me. In any other circumstance, I would have gladly offered to drive him straight to Dr. Phil for an evaluation. Instead, I answered with “I believe in a higher power.”
“You mean God?”
“When I was in the program, I learned that a higher power can be whatever you want it to be. God. Science. Buddha. As long as it displays a loving and caring nature and is greater than us as individuals.”
“So, you traveled the twelve steps, huh?”
“Every single one.”
Lance slowly shook his head, but his gaze remained on the road ahead. “After all you’ve been through in your life, I’m truly surprised to hear you talk about a higher power, and a loving, caring nature and all that. If anyone has the right to be pissed at the world, it’s you.”
Earlier when he had the gun pointed in my face, I told Lance I had indeed killed someone. Most of the people in Seal Bay knew my story, but there were some who hadn’t been entrusted with the full details. “The past is the past, Lance. We can’t go back and change it.”
“Still, it can’t be easy living with what you’ve been through. You had no real father around. Your mom all but disowned you after the incident. Years later you get married, but your wife leaves you for someone else. I can’t believe you didn’t kill yourself a long time ago.”
“Yeah, well, things happen. Life goes on and we deal with it. Where are we headed, man? What’s this about?” I refused to get baited into a conversation about the darkest parts of my life. Admittedly, there was still lingering hurt that time had not washed away, but Lance wasn’t the person I wanted to confide in.
Several ideas for escape had crossed my mind. Unfortunately, each included the possibility of the gun in Lance’s hand discharging and blowing a hole in my side. It wasn’t the weight loss plan I looked for at the moment.
“I didn’t kill anyone, Dillon.”
“You mentioned that earlier, but I still don’t understand what you’re trying to do here.”
“I was framed for those murders. The tools from my house. My truck. Everything the police found that incriminated me, was planted there by the real killer.”
“You really expect me to believe that?”
“I hoped you would. It’s taken me eight years to get out of prison so I can prove my innocence. I need you to believe me, Dillon.” Lance looked over with pleading eyes.
“There’s a lot of people on death row who claim they are innocent. Yet, for whatever reason, no lawyer can ever prove it. Besides, how do you expect me to be on your side when you’ve had that gun in my face all morning?”
“I have to convince you somehow that what I’m saying is the truth. I’ve got nobody to turn to. I was hoping you would help me.”
The prosecution had presented an air tight case in court against Lance. The defense never had a chance and they knew it from day one of the trial. The evidence had been overwhelming, plus the testimony from eye witnesses who saw his truck where the bodies were dumped.
Lance had never been the most popular guy back in high school, but he wasn’t an outcast either. He didn’t fit the stereo typical profile of a future Charles Manson. He shied away from sports and anything else that would thrust him into the spotlight, but he had friends, and not ones who only wore black and never attended parties.
He dated a couple cheerleaders who were two grades ahead of him. He would talk to anyone but wouldn’t initiate the conversation. He was the kind of person that didn’t stand out, but someone easy enough to get along with.
“Well, you might have had a better chance securing my help if you hadn’t come into town with a gun and threatening to shoot people. Especially me.”
“My intentions were to come in peace. People freaked out when they saw me and made things worse. It didn’t have to come to this. I just wanted to talk.”
“Do you blame them? And how did you get out of prison? You must have escaped somehow. They’ve got to be looking for you. Am I right?”
Lance nodded. “Yeah, more than likely they’re searching for me by now. I have several days head start, so there’s time.”
“Give yourself up,” I said. “This isn’t the way to prove your innocence. Someone could have been killed back at Mel’s. You shot Sam. That’s not going to look extremely convincing on the report.”
“I can’t. It has to be my way.”
I could hear the frustration in my voice. “Look, just stop all of this and explain your side of the story. Tell them what you’ve told me and if it’s the truth, then they can decide how to proceed.”
“They would throw me back into prison the moment they caught me. I can’t take any chances until I prove to you that I didn’t do it.”
“And how are you planning on doing that?”
“I’m taking you to see the man who did.”