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
As we neared Seal Bay, the rain returned, pounding the windshield with watery fists. The wipers moved back and forth, valiantly struggling to keep up. Since the call, neither of us had spoken. Jimmy was still in a trance looking out the window, and I concentrated on the road while trying to understand the conversation with Dena.
I never realized she had such a hard time after their father abandoned them. As a little girl, she must have gone through Hell taking on all the blame. It pained me to think of the hurt and guilt she had carried around for so long, and none of us knew it. I hung out with Jimmy nearly every day and never saw the signs.
We arrived in town, and I drove straight to the Sheriff’s office. I parked out front and looked at Jimmy. “Hey, Dena said something to me on the phone that was odd. I was hoping you might know what she’s talking about.”
Without turning away from the water-streaked window, he replied. “What did she say?”
“Something about one more thing to do and then it’s finished. The last thing she said before hanging up was ‘I have to release the souls of the ones who can’t do it themselves’. That mean anything to you?”
At first I didn’t think he heard my question. I waited for several uncomfortable seconds before speaking again. “Jimmy?”
“I don’t know. She’s been reading a lot of books about death and the afterlife lately. Maybe it’s something she picked up from one of those. She’s been acting pretty weird recently, so nothing would surprise me anymore.”
“Has she talked with you about the material she’s reading?”
“Not really. She’s mentioned bits and pieces, but not a lot. We don’t talk as much as we used to. It’s funny how life gets so busy that we don’t spend quality time with the ones we love. How does that happen?”
I rested my head back against the seat. The throbbing in my jaw had quieted to a dull ache, but my head still pounded with a steady beat. “It’s as you said. Life gets too busy and we take things for granted. We start to lose focus on what’s important. Stuff like family and friends. Time slips away without us even knowing it.”
“What’s going to happen now, Dillon?”
“What do you mean?”
“To me. To Dena. Where do we go from here?”
“I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t. I want to say everything will work out just fine, but I would be lying if I did. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I think a lot will depend on whether or not Dena comes forward and tells the police what truly happened that night.”
“She’s scared. She’s lived with this for the last eight years and it’s been tearing her apart. She didn’t know if Eugene would attack her again or leave her alone for good. When Lance came back, she relived that fear again.”
“I know she’s scared, but somehow she has to find the courage to speak up. First, I need to find her and figure out what that one thing is she has left to do. You don’t have any idea where she might have gone?”
Jimmy looked over at me with red eyes and a saddened expression. “She’s probably going to try and hurt herself again. She feels responsible for the deaths of those girls because she did nothing to try and stop Eugene Puckett. She’s carried that guilt for a long time. Maybe that’s what she meant by releasing their souls.”
A sudden thought struck me. “I think I might know where she is. Look, you stay here and wait for Mark. Answer whatever questions he has left for you and tell him I’ll be back in a little while.”
Jimmy shook his head. “No. She’s my sister. We go together.”
I knew he wouldn’t be able to search for Dena. Once I found her, his presence would only add more pressure to the volatile situation. “You can’t, man. I’ve got to do this. You need to be here when Mark gets back. If she sees us both, it will only make things worse. I’ll find her and bring her back. I promise.”
The clouded, distant gaze in his eyes briefly cleared, and for the first time since arriving at the cabin, he looked at me. “Don’t let anything happen to her, Dillon. She’s all I have left. You bring her back, okay?”
I nodded. “You have my word.”
Jimmy stepped out of the Taurus and hurried into Sheriff’s office. I shifted the car into drive and pulled away. Five miles outside of town sat Garden Baptist Church. It had been a gorgeous structure until a fire nearly burnt it to the ground. Arson was suspected, but never confirmed. What remained of the building became a frequent hangout for mischievous teens and an occasional stray raccoon.
Many different phrases and unpleasant words had been spray painted on what inside walls were left standing. With no electricity, a makeshift fire pit had been constructed in the center. It had been abandoned for as long as I could remember. No one seemed too interested in restoring it, and from what I heard, no one would buy it because of the surrounding properties steep price tag.
All six victims from that fateful Halloween night were laid to rest out back in the cemetery. It was the first and hopefully last mass burial I would attend. Mothers and fathers wept as their children were lowered one by one into the depths of an eternal grave.
It was the only place I could think of where Dena might have gone. It made sense. She considered herself responsible for their deaths, and it would be poetic justice to take her own life standing on the very ground under which they were buried.
I parked the Taurus on the side of the road about a hundred yards short of the church entrance and turned off the engine. I decided to walk the rest of the way. If my suspicions were correct and Dena was indeed there, I didn’t want to alert her of my presence. I left the car and hurried to the back of the building where I could approach without being seen.
I slipped inside the gate and quietly crept toward the area of the cemetery where the girls were buried. The rain had eased off quite a bit, but still fell hard enough to mask the sounds of my arrival. I spotted Dena standing near the six graves. She faced the headstones with her head bowed.
When I was twenty feet away, she either heard something or sensed the presence of another person walking among the dead. She turned around, and her face twisted into surprise. “Dillon? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.”
“How did you know I would be here?”
“It took some thought, but I finally figured out what you were talking about.”
She looked past me as if expecting someone else. “Where’s Jimmy? Did he come with you?”
I shook my head. “He’s at the Sheriff’s office. I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to come along. What are you doing?”
Dena dropped her gaze to the ground. “It’s my fault, Dillon. All of it. I should have done something to stop Eugene. He was an animal, capable of doing the worst things imaginable, and I did nothing.”
“There was nothing you could do,” I said. “It’s not your fault he was an evil man. There are some people in this world that are destined to do certain things, good and bad. It’s not our place to get in the way of fate.”
“Fate? What are you talking about?”
“Why did you come out here today, Dena? What did you mean about releasing their souls? Jimmy said you’ve been reading books about death and the afterlife. Is that why you’re here? Because of something you read in a book?”
“I came out here because this is where I belong. Why should I live when they didn’t get the chance to? Their blood is on my hands. I don’t deserve another day on this earth.”
I took two steps closer. I blinked the rain out of my eyes and reached out a hand. “Their blood isn’t on your hands, Dena. The man responsible is dead. He can’t hurt anyone ever again. He can’t hurt you again. Just come back with me and you can tell Sam the whole story and get some closure.”
Dena stepped back shaking her head. “No. I don’t want to tell Sam anything. This is something I have to do. I don’t want closure, Dillon. I want to do what I should have done a long time ago. I’ve chained their souls to this realm with my actions. I need to release them.”
“Jimmy’s waiting for you. He wanted me to bring you back. He loves you, Dena. We all do. You don’t have to face this on your own anymore. Let us help. Let me help. I’m sorry I didn’t see what was going on until now. It’s not too late. You still have a chance to make this right.”
“No.” Tears streamed from her eyes. “No, you can’t help me. No one can. It’s over. It was too late the moment I watched them all die. I can’t go back now.” She reached down and picked up a knife laying on the ground.
“Dena, wait. Don’t do this.”
A flash of lighting illuminated the sky followed immediately by a clap of thunder that shook the ground. Dena hadn’t raised the knife yet. I could see uncertainty glinting inside her eyes. As much as she talked about being responsible for the death of those six girls, there was still a part of her that wanted to live.
When someone reaches what they think is the end of the road and there are no more options, death appears to be the only way out. When hope is lost, and there is no one to count on, desperation, and a feeling of abandonment, can cloud their judgment.
“Will you do something for me?” Dena asked. “Will you tell Jimmy that I love him, and I am so sorry? Tell him that I just couldn’t stand the thought of keeping this secret any longer. I think he will understand.”
I remained silent looking at the knife in her hand. It was time.
“Dillon? Do you hear me? Will you tell him? I just need you to-”
Before she could say another word, I pulled out the 9MM I had hidden behind my back and shot her twice in the chest.