From a work that I hope to release soon as one of a collection of two shorts on a theme. (Cover is still in the works):
Let me tell you about the most remarkable person I ever met.
It began on an early spring evening. I turned up my collar against the drizzle. A three block walk from the bus stop to my apartment. With Samantha out of work, there just wasn’t any money to get the car fixed. That meant the bus.
A coyote howled. I shivered. The Department of Natural Resources reported that a few wander the outskirts of town. There’ve been the occasional attacks, mostly dogs and cats. Some folk were starting to worry about their children.
I passed the school and approached the gate in the fence around the apartment complex. I saw a man huddled against the fence, wrapped in a blanket. I always hated to see that.
“Sorry buddy,” I whispered as I passed him.
“Hey, Gimme a dollar.”
I nearly jumped at the voice and looked down. No, it wasn’t the bum by the gate.
A figure stepped out of the shadow. “Gimme a dollar.”
I held up my hands. “Sorry, but I’m broke myself.”
“Then you won’t mind my checking.” His right hand darted out and grabbed my left sleeve. I saw a flash of bright metal in his left hand.
Panic rose in me. I stepped back meaning to run but I could not break his grip on my sleeve. I heard fabric tear but the sleeve held.
I closed my eyes, expecting at any moment to feel the bite of the knife. But then the man released me. I fell backward, bruising my hip on the pavement. I looked up. Another man towered over my attacker. He stood over six feet tall. Thick-waisted, he nevertheless had the bulky, muscular body of a bouncer. His left hand gripped my attackers left about the wrist. I could see the muscles in his hand tighten. My attacker’s knees buckled.
I scrambled backward. The blare of a horn warned me before I reached the edge of the road.
“That was unkind,” my rescuer said. He looked at me. “Are you well?”
I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I swallowed, then nodded.
My rescuer squeezed. I could see the muscles in his arm bunch. The attacker’s hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground. My rescuer pushed him back. “You, depart.”
Without even looking back at the attacker to see him fleeing, my rescuer turned to me and held out a hand.
I looked up at him. Over six feet tall, easy. Had to be on the high side of two hundred and fifty pounds. His hair, red in the streetlights, fell down to his shoulders, framing his bearded face. His eyes–I could not see their color in the shadows–crinkled with his smile.
I stared up at him, uncertain what to do. He held his hand out, unwavering. After a moment, I took it and he pulled me to my feet.
“You seem unharmed,” my rescuer said.
“I am. Thank you.” I hesitated and looked him over. His clothes were plain and looked to be hand sewn. Behind him I could see the blanket that had covered him while he curled by the fence and a sack with its neck tied back to its base so that it could be slung over a shoulder.
One of the city’s homeless then. They usually didn’t wander out this far. More traffic, and more handouts, to be had nearer downtown.
Still, I owed him.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Why do you ask?”
I spread my hands, palms up. “I told the guy the truth. I don’t have any money. Spent the last of it on lunch at work. Still, my wife should have dinner ready about now. If you…Look, you really saved me here and I’d really like to do something for you.”
He looked at me. A car passed and by its light I could see that his eyes were blue. “I will accept your invitation. My thanks.”
I held out my hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name is Travis Smith.”
He took my hand in his, making me feel like a small child in his massive paw. “I am called…Donner. Donner Rothskegg.”
I beckoned him to follow me as I entered the gate into the complex. He scooped up his bag and blanket with his left hand and slung them over his shoulder.
I paused to let him catch up, then turned to continue. He walked beside me. He had that easy way of walking that I had seen in some athletes, strong but relaxed.
“So, you’re new in our neighborhood?” It sounded stupid even in my own ears.
“I have been…away for a while, a long while.”
“Away? Were you in prison?” I bit my tongue, although too late to stop the question.
He laughed and shook his head. “Prison? If only my father could hear…I suppose you could call it a sort of prison.” He stopped.
I took two steps then stopped and turned back to face him.
He spread his hands. “Does that bother you?”
“I’m…not sure,” I admitted. “What were you in for?”
“It is…complicated.” He again held out a hand. “I give you my word that I mean you and yours no harm. This I swear.”
I thought for a moment. I still owed him. Had he not come to my aid I would have been knifed, possibly killed. His hand remained. Slowly, I reached out and took it.
“A pact of friendship, then,” he said as he held my hand in his firm grip, “between you and me.”
His gaze shifted and he looked past my shoulder. “Be very still.”
I froze. A moment later I heard a growl behind me.
Donner released my hand and grasped the bag slung over his shoulder. “Turn slowly.”
I turned. At the edge of a circle of light cast by one of the security lamps slunk a dog. No, a coyote. A big one. It crouched low, belly to the ground, and bared its teeth in a snarl.
My mouth went dry. I had not heard of a coyote attacking full grown men unless it was rabid.
The coyote slithered forward. I took a step back.
Then everything happened at once. The coyote bunched. Donner slipped the bag off his shoulder and let it fall to the ground. The coyote sprang and Donner lunged forward, almost too fast to see. I stumbled backward. Donner’s hand fell on the back of the coyote’s neck and closed. The coyote yipped and Donner turned and heaved, hurling the coyote away. I managed another step backward as the coyote hit the ground with a yelp. In the dark it was only a blur as it darted away.
I swallowed to get my heart out of my throat and back down to my chest. Donner stood staring after the departed coyote, a deep scowl on his face.
“Are you okay?” I asked. If the coyote was rabid…
“What?” He asked.
“Did he get you?” I raised then lowered my hand indicating Donner’s body. “If he was rabid, we might need to get you to the doctor.”
Donner lifted his arms forward and to the sides. “I am unharmed.”
I sighed in relief. “That’s twice now I owe you. What a night. Let’s get inside before something else happens.”
“By all means, my friend. By all means.”