Flash fiction: "A stranger"
A man stepped out of the darkness, between the snowflakes reflecting our house’s light, and stood squinting before the glass of our sliding back door.
“He’s the first to come here in a while,” my father noted, his voice quiet as he turned off the tap. I looked between Dad and Lucille, seated beside me at the kitchen table.
“Please Sir,” the stranger called, his voice quiet from behind the glass. “I need help. I’ve been lost out here for hours. It’s cold.”
“You’re dressed warm enough,” Dad called to the stranger. “It ain’t that cold, and I ain’t opening this door for no stranger. If you need help, there’s a store about two miles away. Walk back towards the mountain and follow the road to the left. Now get!”
“Please Mister, I can tell some great stories to the boy and girl.” His smile flitted between the two of us.
“Maybe we should let him in,” Lucille whispered. Dad banged a fist on the counter, looking at Lucille like she’d opened the door, then glaring back at the stranger.
“I ain’t letting you in.”
“Please Mister, would you even have a cuppa coffee? I can step way back and you just leave it outside the door. I don’t even have to come in!”
Dad folded his arms and shook his head. The stranger looked real blank at Dad for a second, and then started pulling hard at the door – it rattled around, staying shut, but the lock couldn’t be that strong. Dad shooed us into the living room, where we watched as he took the shotgun from above the fireplace and stomped back to the kitchen, pointing it at the glass door.
“I said get!” Dad roared. The stranger held his hands up in surrender. He backed away, grinning at me for just a second as our eyes met, then turned and run.
“There’s no store for twenty miles,” I said. Dad said not to worry about the welfare of strangers and go to bed.
One morning a few days later, supplies were short. Dad took the gun again, this time to go rabbit hunting. He took his keyring with its wooden cross off the hook by the kitchen door. Pausing at the table as we ate breakfast, he shook his head.
“The snow’s a nightmare to move through. Things like what happened the other night…pretty soon, I’ll need to show Lucille how to use the gun. And then you the year after, Mister. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this house in eyeshot. If he comes near, I won’t just be waving this thing. I’ll be back in an hour or so. Just stay upstairs and don’t let anyone see you here, you got that?”
He ruffled my hair before leaving through the kitchen door. He walked away for about thirty seconds, before walking back to check for the third time the door was locked. He looked at us real grumpy, pointing upwards, and we raced up the stairs, though I paused halfway to watch him striding out into the snow, his coat fading into the blowing white as he trudged towards the pines.
By that evening, he hadn’t come back. I lay beside my sister under her thicker blanket, thinking of how much I wished Mom were still here, but not wanting to say it in case Lucille had fallen asleep. I wondered if she were dreaming about Mom.
The next morning, we determined to go downstairs, just to eat the last of the bread. We took a few bites while standing in the middle of the kitchen, taking our time about running back upstairs. I saw Lucille’s eye’s light up.
“It’s Dad!” Lucille said. He was some distance from the door, but he could probably see us too. “There ain’t much point in running back upstairs now, we had to disobey him.”
Lucille had turned to face me, but now I saw through the glass door that it wasn’t our father. It was the stranger, wearing our father’s coat. I pointed outside to Lucille, and she saw too. I wanted her to run upstairs, but she just stood fixed to the spot. Doing something seemed impossible to me when she was doing nothing.
The stranger reached the door, smiling at us. He pointed at the door handle, then gently joined his two hands in a begging prayer to us. Lucille shook her head, but I saw the punchline of his silent joke coming – he pulled the keyring with the wooden cross out of his pocket and slid open the door.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” he said, walking towards the counter with the hobs. He had a small bag that he dumped on the floor. “Go, sit at the table.”
I thought about jumping him, but he was as big as my dad. I watched as Lucille took her usual seat at the table. I sat too. Reaching into his bag, the stranger pulled out a dead rabbit and threw it flopping onto the counter, turning on the gas cooker.
“I sure wish your pop had let me in that evening,” he said, casting about for a skillet. “We coulda had a nice conversation, and now I’d just be a pleasant memory of a nice evening’s company.”
He looked over his shoulder at Lucille with a grin, his pupils darting up and down. She didn’t reply, frozen again. I had to speak for once. My voice sounded real small as I asked him what had happened to our father.
He turned to meet my eyes.
“I’m your father now.”