A Stranger Came to Town

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A week before the end of the world, a Stranger came to town.

Submitted: May 01, 2008

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 01, 2008



The Stranger

The small leather bag swung back and forth in a regular motion from the side of the cart where it was tethered. The man walking beside the cart glanced at it frequently - almost obsessively. The cart was interesting in itself, laden with the items of a traveler of long years under old canvas. The wood it was made of seemed old, brown with a few white flecks of what might have once been a coat of paint, though it still seemed quite sturdy. The cart was hitched to a small brown mule, which was stooped with years, although it seemed reasonably well cared for. Although it was not an uncommon sight to be seen coming into town, there seemed something odd about the whole assemblage; perhaps it was the long scar running down the slightly too pale white skin of the mans face. Perhaps it was some odd bulges under the tarp. Perhaps it was the unusual speed that the cart was moving – just a little bit faster than it looked like it should be able too.
Whatever the reason, the few people around him backed into the shadows, and some of them pushed their children behind them. The man spared them an odd glance, laden with some emotion that might almost have been sadness, but was more like pity.
He came to a halt in front of the town store, not bothering to tether his mule. Upon stepping in he went quietly about the store, collecting a few items - a few pieces of clothing, and a wristwatch. He collected no food. After gathering these few things, he strode to the counter. The storekeeper eyed him with some suspicion, looking him from the simple leather shoes, to the small pouch leather bag tied to his waist, to the white blond hair on his hatless head. The man removed a small purse from a pocket that the storekeeper hadn’t noticed before and placed a few coins on the table. They seemed to be real, and more than paid for the purchase. The man simply shook his head when the storekeeper offered him change. He started to leave, but suddenly turned back and spoke quietly to the shopkeeper. He spoke quietly it seemed, not out of intent, but of simple habit. His voice as he asked where he could find lodging in the town was slightly husky, and perhaps a few notches higher in pitch then it seemed it should have been.
After being informed of the town’s small in, he led his mule over, left it outside, and went in. A few minutes later he could be seen in one of the top floor rooms drawing the blinds across his window.
The next morning he wasn’t at the inn, although no one had seen him leave. He returned around nightfall, and there were rumors of him being sighted walking in the small dry wood a mile or so south of the town. Once again he didn’t eat or stop by his cart, and when his cart was inspected, it seemed to be almost exactly as it had the day before, lacking only a small leather bag. The townspeople were now getting uneasy. Perhaps the discontent was aggravated by the odd weather. Storm clouds had been hanging over head for several days now, and the whistling winds, slightly too warm even for the late season, (though dry) felt like the winds before a storm, and yet not a drop of rain had been seen in weeks. Murmurs passed in small waves through the town, about the activities of the stranger, with a faint bite of anger and suspicion. This pattern continued on the second day, and on the third, and on the fourth; the man leaving before daybreak, and returning at around seven.
On the fifth day, a town meeting was held, in which they decided to force the stranger to leave. And so, when he returned at about seven, the elected delegate walked up to him and told him to collect whatever was in his hotel room, and to leave. The stranger explained that he meant no harm, and would continue on his way. Then the delegate, a big and slightly drunk man, swung around and hit him. No one saw what happened next, but the delegate was found bleeding and half dead in the bushes a few feet away, with broken ribs and a dislocated neck.
The townspeople decided to kill the stranger. So it was that on the evening on the sixth day, when his cart (which he had, unusually, taken with him) was seen trundling towards town with a dark figure hunched over the reigns, that the sheriff, armed with a piece of heavy pipe, ran towards the cart. He struck the mule first, and it’s brown skin tore like rice paper. The mule fell to the ground, a wide tear in its shoulder showing metal. The sheriff kept going, striking at the figure still bent over the reigns. The figure toppled from the cart , and unrolled – a bundle of clothing, price tags still attached, stuffed with old rags.

Then suddenly the wind picked up, and the townspeople huddled together around the broken cart as the clouds turned red, and smoke was seen in the distance. One of them looked closely at the cart, and saw that it was completely full, except for one small leather pouch. The last sound the people of the town heard before the sky caught fire was a thin mechanical sounding voice, riding the hot dry wind over the hill saying:

Research mission canceled. Demolition in progress. Research mission cancelled. End of message.

The stranger stood on the other side of the hill, and put the tiny metal box back in the small leather bag, and then suddenly there was just a dry wind whistling over the empty plain.

From a vantage point high above, the stranger looked back at the sad, stupid world and at the waves of fire rolling across it. It was such a waste; he could have learned so much from it, but it had to be demolished to make way for something or other. Ah well. Perhaps the conservation groups could save the next one.

And so it was that as the sun rose on the seventh day, no one stirred.

© Copyright 2018 Ati. All rights reserved.

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