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
Having guns pointed in my general direction was beginning to get mighty tiresome. The day had not turned out at all as I expected when I crawled from underneath my warm blankets and drove into work. With a darkened sky looming above, it felt like evening although both hands on my watch pointed straight to twelve.
For some reason, I found it odd the man holding the shotgun would give us twenty seconds to leave. Not ten, or even thirty which was the most common, but twenty. Each second seemed to pass with the length of an hour. I didn’t want to find out what would happen if we reached the deadline.
“We just want to talk,” I said as I raised my hands further to the sky. “Look, I don’t even have a gun or anything.”
Standing at the top of the steps, the man strained to see me. “Who’s your friend? Behind you? He needs to step out where I can see him. Nice and slow.”
“I brought him here to learn the truth.” Lance spoke next to my ear, and my heart almost stopped. He stepped out from behind me and pointed the gun straight ahead. “I’m tired of being blamed for what you did.”
“Lance?” As he raised the weapon higher, the man took one step away. “Is that really you?”
“Yeah, Dad, it’s me. Don’t act so surprised. You had to know I would come back one day. Eight years are a long time. Aren’t you going to give me a hug?”
Apparently Eugene Puckett had not been killed in a car accident. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Lance might not be the killer we all thought he was. Now, his father was back from the dead. Somewhere in a deep, dark corner of my brain, I started wishing for the dream to end and I would wake up at home, in bed.
“When did you get out?”
Eugene’s voice trembled. After a long period of time, I figured he had doubts about what his son was capable of. Allowing an innocent person to take the fall for one’s actions is reprehensible. Doing it to family, well, there isn’t even a word for that kind of injustice.
“A few days ago. I didn’t think I would ever make it. Fortunately, there are still some decent people left in this world, and I was able to hitch some rides. I thought about calling you for some bus money, but I wanted this to be a surprise.”
“Well, I am most certainly surprised.” He gestured towards me. “What does all of this have to do with Dillon?”
Lance shrugged. “Nothing really. I needed a witness to verify that I didn’t do what they say I did. He needs to know the truth about what happened that night. We’re going to set the record straight.”
I wasn’t sure why Lance didn’t tell me everything at Mel’s. Telling Sam the complete story and allowing him take some men to check the cabin and confirm the details would have made more sense. Instead, I had to stand outside in the pouring rain, between father and son who stood on the brink of shooting each other, and hope the expiration date on my life had not already passed.
“Lance, we all know what happened. There isn’t anything to straighten out. You killed those girls and dumped their bodies. Seems pretty open and shut to me. The jury decided it was too.”
Lance took two steps forward putting him directly beside me. I still had my hands raised, unsure of what would happen if I lowered them. It was only a matter of time before the pain would be too much, and they would drop whether I wanted them to or not.
“You won’t get away with this anymore,” he said. “I rotted in prison for eight years while you went about your life without a care in the world. Faking your own death has its advantages I guess.”
Even with limited visibility, I could see Eugene Puckett bristle in anger at his son’s words. “Without a care in the world? Are you seriously talking to me like that? Son, I buried your mother. Don’t think you-”
“Shut up! Don’t say another word!” Lance screamed, and I waited for one of the men to fire their gun. “I hate you. You were never there when I needed someone. You let me take the blame for something you did. YOU killed those girls! YOU dumped their bodies! YOU framed me for it! I want you to admit it right here, right now!”
Movement inside the cabin caught my eye, but I managed to stifle my reaction. In the gloom and distortion of pouring rain, I could have been mistaken. There was a slim chance someone had come to my rescue. It was a brazen plan, one that I thought up in a moment of desperation. I needed to create a diversion.
“Both of you need to calm down.” I slowly lowered my hands. “No one needs to get hurt. We’ve got to talk things out.”
Lance looked at me and opened his mouth to speak. Jimmy Burns made his move at that precise moment. He burst through the front door behind Eugene Puckett and tackled him around the waist, knocking him off the porch.
At the same moment, I lunged at Lance, grabbing the gun as he fired off a round. I knocked him to the ground hoping the wild shot had missed its mark.
Lance rolled onto his side, flipping me over and I landed hard on my back. Water splashed all around me as I hit, knocking the wind out of my lungs and nearly snapping my spine. Through eyes blurred with pain and the falling storm, I watched as he stood and walked toward me.
I knew with one swift kick to the face, he would render me unconscious, and the fight would be over. I rolled away and onto one knee. I looked, but didn’t see his gun lying anywhere on the ground. He didn’t have it in his hand anymore either, which gave me hope. Even in the darkened gloom that engulfed us, I could see his expression as clear as any beacon flashing from a lighthouse.
He intended to kill me.
“Lance, let’s end this now. I believe you. I don’t think you killed anyone. Hurting me will only make the situation worse. Let’s call the cops and tell them what happened.”
“I can’t go back, Dillon. I can’t. It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do now.”
I looked toward the cabin but couldn’t see Jimmy or Eugene. After Lance’s gun went off, I couldn’t hear much of anything either. I had no idea where the bullet had landed. No help from Jimmy meant one of two things. He was still trying to subdue Eugene Puckett, or he had been hit. I hoped he was still alive.
I didn’t need the guilt of my friend’s death haunting me for the duration of my life. I had enough on my plate to last several lifetimes.
Lance rushed forward and delivered a vicious kick toward my head. I raised both hands to deflect, but the force still shattered my balance and knocked me off my feet. Ignoring the stabbing pain in my lower back, I jumped up and charged, hitting Lance in the stomach with my shoulder and driving him to the ground.
Two quick punches to his face and I thought the fight was over. Lance obviously had other ideas. From out of nowhere he landed a right hay-maker to my temple causing a cluster of stars to explode like a 4th of July celebration. I clutched my head in a swarm of dizziness and slumped to the ground.
Somehow through sheets of rain and a throbbing drum parade pounding in my skull, I spotted Lance’s gun lying in the puddle-filled grass. Fighting an overwhelming urge to vomit, I started crawling toward the weapon. I needed to get control of the situation, and that would be the one thing that could turn the tables in my favor.
“Give it up, Dillon.” Lance rushed past me and snatched up the gun right as I reached for it. “This just isn’t your day. You should stick with building computers or whatever it is you do.”
On all fours, I fought to control my breathing and block out the pain. I learned several tricks in the military to accomplish both tasks, but they had abandoned me. “You don’t need to do this. It’s not too late, Lance. You haven’t broken anything that can’t be fixed. Just give me a chance to help you.”
“You don’t want to help me, Dillon. You never did. All I wanted was for you to believe me. I figured with someone from Seal Bay who was known to be honest and respected as you are, I might have a chance.”
Pain flared in my lower back, and I winced. “You still have a chance. Put the gun down before you do something stupid. You’re not a killer. I can see it in your eyes.” I surprised myself with those words. I had no idea if Lance was a killer or not, and I most certainly couldn’t tell anything by looking into the dark orbs on his face.
Lance cocked the hammer back and took several steps toward me. I rose to my knees and rested before trying to stand. Spasms in my back continued, shooting down my leg. I couldn’t think straight. All I could focus on was not letting Lance kill me. I could probably bet on the gun working and not clicking on an empty chamber as it had in the cafe. “Lance, wait. There’s something you don’t know. Information you don’t have. You’ve got to hear me out.”
Blood tinted water streamed down his face as he opened his mouth to laugh. To be honest, I would have laughed at myself as well for such a weak effort to stall for time. “Are you serious? You can’t possibly think-”
A deafening boom obliterated the steady hum of rain, and I watched as Lance was knocked from his feet and tossed to the drowning earth like a rag doll. Jimmy walked over through a small patch of fog, smoke trailing from the barrel of Eugene’s shotgun. He stood over the fallen body and raised the weapon.
“Jimmy! He’s dead. No one could have survived that shot.” I crawled to my feet and stumbled to his side.
“I need to make sure he’s gone. Forever.”
One look at Lance and I knew he was dead. The buckshot had not been kind to his chest. I swallowed the bile in my throat and put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. “He’s gone, man. He can’t do anything to us anymore.”
Jimmy lowered the gun, but continued to stare at the corpse. His features hardened like I had never seen. Having shot and killed someone myself, I knew what he was going through. It would haunt him the rest of his life.
The pain and guilt would wake him at night. He would replay the scene over and over inside his mind until nearly reaching the point of insanity. The mental scar would linger until the end of time, a reminder that would invade his dreams and rob him of closure.
“Jimmy? You okay?”
My friend nodded but remained silent. He turned around and walked back toward the cabin, still holding the shotgun. I took one last look at Lance and shook my head. There were only two men who knew the true story about that Halloween Night. One of them was now dead.
I turned to follow Jimmy but stopped when I heard the shot. Another shot followed, cutting off Eugene Puckett’s scream.