"Friends of the Traveling Kind" by Karen
Looked at from any direction one might choose, the fact remains that he and Johnny are going to be stuck here, unless he gets the transmission working again.
Bruce ruffles the stiff black strands of hair on his head, wondering if somehow the transmission on his car has a life of its own. That had to be the only explanation for its propensity to break down in the most unlikely and inconvenient places. Take this Hobb's Landing Place, sure it from an outsider's perspective it looks just fine, just like any other ordinary, small, Midwestern town, right?
Bruce gives the stubborn vehicle another good swift kick with his booted left foot,
hoping that this times the engine will start and he can continue his search for his best friend, Johnny Smith. He has several ideas of what he will do and say once He does find Johnny, varying from a mild, 'you are a very difficult man to find,
to ' how in the name of all that is good and sane, do I manage to let you talk me into these messes." Of course, he has to get his car started first.
Just then, caught in the act of his foot suspended over the open hood of his car,
a black and white striped police car pulls up along the side of the road parallel where his car stalled. The officer gives him a questioning look, right before he stop, then turns off the ignition, and gets out.
The officer crosses the deserted street when Bruce notices that the man is probably in his forties or fifties, and looks much like Barney Miller's character in the old Andy Griffith show that he remembers watching in syndicated reruns on late night cable. Bruce, on bringing up that mental image, has to laugh at both his own fickle imagination and his circumstances.
"Son, looks to me like you've got yourself some car trouble." The officer raises his arm and points at Bruce's stalled car. "It's a long walk into town, and I'm head back that way, myself. I can offer you a ride, if you'd like."
Meanwhile, Johnny Smith, under his present circumstances, would most likely be willing to trade places and problems with Bruce. Going into the town of Hobb's Landing he wanted to investigate in more detail the events that led up or will lead up to a little girl's murder. That's one of his main problems with his precognitive ability to see visions of what might happen; they're never very precise with the exact details. So, Johnny enlisted his best friend, Bruce's assistance.
What he hadn't been expecting, was in Hobb's Landing, despite being located only fifty five miles from the big city and having access to all the modern day conveniences and dish network television; the thinking and philosophy of the people living here is very much verging on the 17th century. "Think Salem Witch Trials, folks," Johnny mutters.
While he knows that most people, whether or not they knew about his visions, it's just something that makes him who is, that it has almost become like his primary identity.
He never expected to be branded some kind of evil witch because of it. 'It would be funny', he thinks, 'not funny in the ha ha, bust a gut laughing kind of funny, but ironic."
The locals idea of dealing with a suspected witch, and he didn't even receive the dignity of defending his case with a trial.
He's angry, but he does have the consolation that he saved the life of that little girl who would have been murdered.
The problem, of all the times for his visions to trigger, he has to have one while he's tied up and unable to do anything about it. The vision is not pleasant, but then they rarely are.
In his vision a bonfire had been lit and he's the guest of honor. Johnny attempts to stifle the vision, dousing the imaginary flames, or thinking of ways to get out of this situation before it gets any worse.
In the distance Johnny can hear the sound of a police siren getting louder and louder. It
might mean someone saw his predicament and called for the authorities, or it might have
nothing to do with him at all. In the past few hours he has toyed with the image conjured
up from his boyhood readings and viewing of the classic Mary Shelley novel
"Frankenstein." Mostly the scene where the angry and confused monster is finally run to
ground at his creator's castle, closely followed by the pitchfork-carrying and torch-
bearing mob of angry villagers.
The whine of the police siren ended, followed by the scrape of a black and white police car sliding along the gravel of the dirt path leading to the clearing. Johnny had fallen asleep, so when the noise woke him up, he had some difficulty focusing on the approaching figures. Two men, one white, one black, the black man had an afro; it only took a few seconds for Johnny to identify him before it clicked. "Bruce!" He wanted it to be a shout, of relief, but it came out a choked gurgle.
"Man," Bruce whispered," I don't mean to be a downer, but you look like something the cat declined to drag in." He sighed and shook his head. "Mr. Garrison, I don't to want to cause any more of a row or trouble than what's already taken place. Also, I'm grateful to you for filling me in, but if it's all the same to you, could you release my friend."
"I don't know if I can do that."
"The townsfolk, well you see, they're a pretty tight-knit bunch, and they are right furious with Mr. Smith, because they think, rightly or wrongly, that he's in league with the devil."
"You have got to be kidding me," Bruce scoffed. "We both know that is just not possible."
"Um, do I get a vote?" Johnny asked.
"If it were up to me, son," Garrison replied, "I'd untie you, to my mind, this has all been a huge misunderstanding. And I'm sorry for having to put you through it."
Bruce went to the edge of the clearing and peered out through the gaps in the bushes and trees. "Looks like we're about to find out, one way or the other. Me I think I'd prefer to choose the path less traveled by."
"You a Robert Frost fan, son?" Garrison asked.
"Yeah, Bruce nods. "It's probably the most famous and recognized line from the man's poetry.
"I just want to get the hell out here, Bruce."
Johnny raised his head and watches as the ground nears thier little impromptu trio. The groups is led by a man dressed in what appears to be his Sunday best, a white linen lawn suit, silk tie and leather shoes on his feet. He appears to be the leader and seems to be relishing the role more than he should, but then again, Johnny could be wrong about that first impression. After several hours of being tied up, the lack of blood circulation is bound to make him imagine all sorts of half- baked ideas.
"Reverend Purdy," Sheriff Garrison greeted the leader of the newcomers, "I've been expecting you."
"Indeed, my son."
The man addressed as Reverend Purdy nod in a brief acknowledgement of the statement before he brushed by the cop and walked over to Johnny to lean down and stare into his eyes. Johnny tensed up and felt a cold shiver ran up and down his spine. The other man had ice blue eyes, that even with the bright teeth-barring smile, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. 'I've got a bad feeling about this," Johnny thought
Purdy turned around and faced his crowd of anxious spectators to this little dramatic scene, "We have ourselves a unique opportunity, which reminds me of the parable from the Bible of the man who was to through a dinner party at his home. Then he learned that his rival and neighbor, who lived in a bigger, finer, and more expensive dwelling, also had a dinner party on the same night."
"What did he do?" Bruce asked, in spite of himself. "Great,' he thought in the back of his mind, 'All I wanted to do is find my friend, talk him out of whatever legal trouble he managed to get himself into, and get out of here. Instead, we're stuck in the middle of a forest clearing listening to the local reverend ramble on about Biblical parables.'
"He gathered up all of his staff, his friend and neighbors and devised a plan, that he would sabotage the more prosperous neighbor's dwelling."
"Why did he do that?" a woman asked.
"And what lesson are we to learn from that man's story?"
"To be content with what we have?"
"Not to envy our neighbor."
"A man who lives a glass house shouldn't throw stones." Purdy smiled. "By that token I have decided that this man before us has suffered enough for his offenses against our town, and should be set free."
"About damn time." Bruce muttered into his unbuttoned shirt collar. Louder, he said," Thank you, Reverend."
"You are quite welcome, my son." Gesturing at several of the local townspeople and placing a friendly hand on the officer's shoulder, Purdy stood by and watched as Johnny was untied and helped to his feet.
When they released and he was able to stand on his own, he nearly fell over backwards. Bruce immediately steeped forward. "Officer Garrison, I'm going to have to ask for your help again, and drive us to where we left my car at the garage. He's in no condition to walk all that distance."
"Sure, not a problem." Officer Garrison smiled.
"Do you really think we've heard the last of Reverend Purdy?" Bruce asked as he spun the steering wheel and took a sharp left turn onto the ramp that would take onto the highway and back home. Bruce had cranked up the volume on the radio but all got was the white noise of static, so he had turned it off. He had known Johnny Smith long enough not to interrupt when he got into his brooding, introspective silences, but to Bruce's way of thinking, this was a hell of time to pick to go silent.
Johnny sat in the passenger seat, his back rigid and his arms folded over his chest, head up and eyes staring straight at the road ahead, but not really seeing any of the passing scenery. Not that Bruce blamed, but it was also irritating and inconvenient.
He could use a navigator. Bruce, taking one off the wheel, not so subtly slid the fold-out map into his friend's lap. He also wanted to talk about what happened in Hobb's Landing, and Johnny completely zoned out. Bruce returns his full attention to his driving and the road ahead, deciding that Johnny would tell him everything when he is ready to, and not before. Bruce sighs and figures, and thinks 'Typical, but I guess it's better than nothing. And managed to make it out there in one piece, so as they say in gambling, we managed to break even."