The Wandering Stranger tells the strange tale of Gregory Sharpe, a strange man who is unsure of his grasp on reality, a man who is also being hunted down by mysterious forces …
There was a violent clanging against the door. His attention was drawn to it immediately. His awakening must have alerted someone to his whereabouts. The door was still in good shape, but like the building it was constructed out of old wood. It would not last the night. Taking out the only weapon on his person, Gregory armed himself with his knife. In three leaps he was at the door. Quick and swift, he jammed the knife through one of the side slits as his pursuer struck once again.
Someone screamed in pain. Within the seconds that followed there came a sickening silence.
Rushing he grasped at his belongings; Gregory kicked the blockades out of the way, then threw the door open. He leaped over a body and raced out of the barn into the cold clutches of the night.
“Hey!” someone shouted behind him. It sounded like a man. Gregory ignored the plea, demand, whatever it was. The highway would be the first place that they’d look–if they were indeed following him–so he made a beeline to the edge of the field. He’d take his chances with the forest. It was possible that these were normal, human men, at the barn for a drug deal. Too many assassins had plagued his thoughts. Either way he didn’t care. Both truths were inconsequential.
And both truths held meanings that were at once dark and unsettling.
The edge of the forest loomed up before him. Gregory bent over, sweat slicking his hair and clinging to his forehead. He sucked in air like something dying. The rhythm of his frantic heart was a reminder that he was still alive.
Alive and with a name that stuck.
Although it was a dream, one that left many questions unanswered, he was satisfied.
The rest will come in good time.
Gregory Sharpe wiped his face with the sleeve of his yellow jacket. It would stick out on a night like this when the moon shone bright above. With a quick glance behind, he dove into the forest.
Darkness always bequeathed him with a new perspective. In the forest there was a plethora of sounds. Reality passed him by like a dream, made more surreal by his lack of sight.
Here in the dark woods, visions sometimes became reality, too. One would never truly know until it was on top of you, tearing you apart. He squinted frequently in order to refocus his eyes. His pace had all but slowed to a crawl as he stalked through the underbrush. Whenever he rustled a blade of grass, or snapped a twig beneath his boot he would wince, as if in grave pain.
There was a flashlight in his bag; it was in perfect working order, but he fought the urge to take it out. He didn’t need the kind of attention it would bring. Besides that, there was a full moon. He came to the top of a low hill, then slithered to the bottom of it like a ghost. To his right he found that part of the hill had been eroded, leaving a convenient overhang. With a sigh of relief he crawled into the quaint shelter for the night.
He hugged his knees close to his body, and observed the open field before him. In the distance a small herd of deer were laying down for the night. Coyotes began to howl their eerie chorus, breaking the silence. Their yipping reminded him of shrill, echoing laughter, and cold stars.
He much preferred the silence.
He opened his eyes and immediately shut them again; he was facing the east. With a sore hand he shielded his face. The deer had long since left, leaving him alone. Gregory stood up and brushed the dirt from the back of his legs and jacket; he then removed the jacket and stowed it away with his other effects. Judging by the sun in the sky this day was going to be brutal.
He set out across the field, heading east, as his stomach whined. There was a granola bar stuffed away in his bag. It was small pittance, but for now it would do.
The field gave way to more emerald forest. Tamaracks sprang up around Gregory in groups, signifying clay soil, and thus water. Without meaning to he swatted at a deerfly. In a matter of minutes the tamaracks gave way to a cleared area. On a manmade embankment he saw the train tracks.
Gregory stood for a few minutes to ponder the situation. With three leaps he was up on the tracks. Following them did not mean that he would be lead anywhere, yet it was a gamble that he had to make. When noon rolled around he made his next stop; he sat beneath an ash tree and rested for a while.
Several hours of walking turned out to be fruitful, and Gregory silently thanked the Golden Spider Queen–before he stopped himself in horror at what he was doing. If this were a public space … Gregory could not bring himself to think on it further. Once he had neared city limits he switched from walking on the tracks to walking alongside them.
He had no idea where he was.
Do I ever know where I am? This was not a novel thought.
Gregory couldn’t help but laugh sardonically at himself. This was the story of his life! Amidst the sweltering heat he sat with his back against a pine tree, promising himself that he would sit only for a few minutes. His eyes lidded shut. The temperatures were torpid, like the mouth of Hel itself!
And there you go, at it again! Was the accusing thought in his head.
All summer it had been dry no matter where he went, but this was the worst day he had ever experienced in his long life. There had been little rain, and what rain there was came in the form of violent storms. Gregory was a man of the August months. Colder was better.
Ten minutes earlier the tracks had intersected with a road. By the look of it the area he was now in a rural area. There were a good number of inhabitants, if the signs were to be trusted. It could be that the area gave way to a larger city.
On the opposite side of the track there was a path; it was fairly broad. “Where does that lead?” he murmured. His eyes were still shut, but he knew the path was there. Something is off, he then realized. Gregory knew what it was, but the answer refused to come; it was just out of reach. He hated that. All of it.
If he wasn’t so worn out things would be different! What’s the point in getting mad about it? he asked himself, stamping out the brief flare up. You should rest. The heat coupled with the steady drone of the cicadas were muddling his thoughts.
Gregory’s breathing slowed down to a more peaceful rhythm and his head lolled gently to one side.
Someone was shaking him; he tried opening his eyes, but there was a light in his face.
“What the hell?” he barked, his voice like gravel.
“I didn’t know if you were asleep or dead,” someone replied.
Gregory softened at the voice. It was human. It was a woman. He sat up straighter and looked at her. “Sorry.”
The woman said nothing, she simply looked at him with an unnerving intensity.
Gregory turned his face away from the sun as an excuse not to look back at her.
“Well, I guess I’ll be going now,” she said suddenly. “There’s only a few hours left before it gets dark–” here he noted a ghost of unease in her tone of voice, or perhaps he wanted to hear it there “–and you really don’t want to be near the tracks in the dark.” She stood up and left, walking away from him at a brisk pace.
Gregory counted to ten as he watched her go. “Thanks,” he said quietly. She was right; the tracks were too dangerous at night. He stood up, stretched, then hopped onto the path. The woman was now out of sight, but he reckoned he could catch up to her. She really did seem uneasy when she mentioned the bit about the tracks. In fact, being near the area seemed to frighten her. There was something about her that came off as disingenuous though; perhaps she had held something back from him?
What was it about the tracks that made her act so odd? This was the first time anyone had bothered to check up on him. Gregory was a homeless bum, after all, so why not simply walk away at the sight of him?
Something was happening here.
Gregory sighed. Again, the unknown has creeped up on you! It follows you wherever you go!
Further down the dirt path the trees began to thin out into a single line, evenly spaced. Between each tree Gregory made out a broad field of tomb stones. He whistled between his teeth; he had always pitied those people who lived next to grave yards. Does she walk by this everyday? He wondered. This was probably the way she took to and from work ,if he had to guess. It was often quicker to cut across land. I don’t envy you at all! But you must love it in the fall when the days grow shorter . . .
There was a buzzing sound which filled his ears.
Gregory looked down at the source.
For that one moment everything stopped. Looking down at the base of a tree Gregory found a ring of mushrooms. They were ugly, gelatinous things that glowed a pale yellow in the twilight. A cold knot began to form in his stomach. Those daemons, was the first thought that came to mind; he could have sworn that it was not him, however. Every so often there would come a voice in his head, another version of him that was old, archaic; this voice was the source of all his troubles. Faerie ring . . . It whispered.
At the centre of the ring someone had placed a dead animal, what appeared to be a skinned cat. Flies swarmed it, covering every inch of its exposed flesh.
This was intended for you. That was the archaic voice. Leave this place!
Gregory shook himself. No, this was intended for that woman! Anger welled up inside of him. What sick people could have done this?
More and more he had begun to suspect that all of this was a small part of a much larger picture. The notion was insane, but he was certain that he had now met another piece. He wanted to help the stranger, but had no idea how. Gregory could barely take care of himself at times.
The graveyard seemed endless. It was a good half hour before he came to another road, a small relief on his part. Nasty things haunted graveyards, as he recalled, and they were not ghosts. Ghosts were myths, memories. The creatures he had met were known by many names: goblins, gnomes, faeries, daemons.
Or, he stopped himself with a pointed reminder, The supposed you of ages long past had met these creatures. Reality was swiftly running out of reach, and he was not sure if he could pull himself out of the dream this time around. Maybe, just maybe, Gregory needed to let go, allowing himself to be swallowed whole, before he could be well again.
What did he have to lose?