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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 25. Plain Luck

Plain Luck

No special warnings for this chapter.

Questions and issues raised in this chapter or any other chapter can be discussed at the A to Z story thread here: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/40860-a-to-z/

August 26

I ached from sleeping in the plastic chairs at the Suds Bucket Laundromat in Carbonville, but I managed to cram everything back into the pack. I headed out the door as soon as I could see the rain had let up overnight.

Have water bottle, will travel.

I made slow going of my walk to the west, shambling along the main road out of town. At least the rain had stopped, and my clothes were dry.

Head down, keeping west. Mind empty of anything except traffic, I trudged through another town and crossed another bridge sometime around noon. Stopped on the far riverbank to eat my dinner - funny how Eustace’s word for the midday meal stuck with me. It wasn’t much, because I wanted to make my supplies last.

The water looked friendlier again. I guess I’ve come around to the idea that I was stuck living with myself, for now. I can change my mind later, if I want. As long as there are trucks on the road and trains running on the tracks, there are quick and available ways to die.

On the way out of town, the main highway veered south, following the big river. I took the next fork that headed west. This road was mercifully quieter.

Such things can be deceiving.

As I plodded along, I heard the faint clip-clop of a horse. Another Amish farm wagon behind me, I guessed. I didn’t bother to look. There had been several Amish farms near Akron – I remembered seeing them on my walks into the village from Eustace’s place. Sometimes, a buggy would pass me, and I would wave. Occasionally, I’d get a wave back, but usually the driver would simply nod gravely at me and drive on.

Anyhow, about a moment later, a state police cruiser whizzed by.

Damn. I hadn’t seen it coming. I’d been thinking about the horse behind me. Even worse, as the car neared the next bend in the road, I could have sworn I saw its brake lights come on.

Was it turning around? For me? Desperately, I checked to see if I could disappear into a ditch or something. Not much cover at this spot, not that I could see, anyways.

At that moment, the farm wagon pulled up beside me. The driver was a kid, maybe my age, maybe a little younger. Hard to tell. Clearly an Amish farm kid - blue shirt, black pants, straw hat. He smiled down at me.

“You need a ride, friend?”

He motioned toward the wagon. That police car would be back in a second, I knew it. I could give up right there, or keep trying. Before I knew what I was doing, I scrambled up into the wagon, set my bag down on the floor, and sat beside my new friend on the bench. He flipped the reins and horse started us moving again.

“You may want a hat, I think. It’s hot.”

He pointed, where a battered version of the straw hat he wore lay at my feet. I put it on, and none too soon. Around the curve ahead, the police cruiser returned, moving slowly enough for the trooper to inspect us as it passed.

I wondered what the trooper saw – just a couple of Amish kids, out on an errand, I hoped. That I decided to wear Eustace’s soft blue work shirt was just dumb luck, I guess.

I kept my eyes forward on the road ahead, not daring to look to see if the trooper was coming back. Eventually, we took a right-hand fork in the road, and I relaxed a little. I glanced at my intercessor. He looked a lot like me, I thought. Blond hair – his was cut better than mine – dark eyes (his were blue, mine are brown), square-ish jawline. He seemed more solid, more filled out than me. We might be brothers, but not twins.

Idly, I wondered what he’d look like without his shirt on. Pretty hot, I’d guess. Ugh. Stop thinking that way – that’s the way to get hurt. Funny, how I managed to ponder my own death for much of yesterday, but that I really wanted to avoid getting hurt. Did I think death would be painless? That gloomy thought occupied me for a while, but the regular clopping of the horse made me kind of drowsy.

I suddenly became aware of being asked a question.

“Sorry. I spaced out a little,” I said, trying to wake myself up.

“Perhaps you are thirsty?”

“Thanks. I have some water.”

“Hah, maybe you’ll think this is better,” he seemed to snicker and pointed to a big jug that sat on the bottom of the wagon between his feet.

He pulled out the cork and held it up. “Try this.”

Well, it seemed impolite to say no. I sniffed at the opening. It smelled strange – spicy and sweet and vinegary all at once. Experimentally, I tried a sip. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t like anything I’d ever tried before. At home, all I ever got was water. At school, I could get some milk. This summer, I’d had liquor (a bad idea), and I’d tried some Gatorade from the Akron store, which had a weird metallic kind of taste.

This tasted very different. Not alcoholic, for one thing. No stupid pretend flavoring, for another. Vinegar? Cider? No, there was something sweet there, too, that I couldn’t place. And spices, maybe? I couldn’t help myself, and tried a little more. The taste definitely grew on me. Before I knew it, I had taken a long, deep drink of the stuff.

I realized the kid was staring at me.

“What?”

“You like it?” he asked, his eyebrows arched in surprise.

“Yeah, it’s strange but really good,” I told him. “What is it?”

“We call it ‘switchel.’ You’re the first English I’ve ever met who can stand it.”

So I’d caught a ride with an Amish joker. Well, the joke was on him, I guess. I liked the stuff.

“Sorry I took so much.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s just hard to believe I found an English who likes switchel,” he laughed.

We rode along more cheerfully for a moment.

“Why do you call me ‘an English?’ ”

“You’re not one of us – one of the plain folk, I mean,” he said, looking sideways at me. “Anyone who isn’t one of us is ‘English.’”

“Oh.”

“We’re not supposed to have anything to do with English, but we can trade with you and be good neighbors. Help each other, you know?”

“Well, thank you for helping me out.”

We were quiet again for a time.

“Are you in trouble?” my seatmate inquired politely.

“Maybe a little.”

He grinned at my reply.

“Nothing too serious? I don’t want to help a murderer get away.”

My stomach kind of lurched. In the eyes of the state cops, he might be doing just that. I’m no killer. But he didn’t know that.

“No. Nothing like that. Just getting away from home for a while, that’s all.”

“Aah. Rumspringa, like?”

I had no idea what that meant, so I just shrugged. My all-purpose answer for everything.

“So, why are you out today?” I asked, a good offense being my best defense against questions.

“My father needed some supplies from town,” he replied, jerking his head toward the back of the wagon.

I realized I hadn’t even looked. I did now. There were some big bags of feed lying there. A small paper bag lay next to it. Groceries? Hardware? None of my business.

“You get off the farm much?”

“No, not often.”

“So, why’d you pick me up?”

“It’s a long drive to town and back. I wanted someone to share the ride with.”

“Sorry I’m not very good at conversation.”

“Who said anything about conversation? It’s just good to share. Besides, you looked like you needed the ride.”

I nodded.

“Yeah, I did. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

We clopped onward in silence. Eventually, he broke the quiet.

“You must get down, soon. The farm is just over there,” he stated, pointing.

"You don't need any help, do you?" It didn't hurt to ask, I thought. "I've done farm work."

"No. We have plenty of us to do the work."

I nodded.

Well, it had to end sometime. And, in a way, it was my lucky day. I avoided the cops (again!) and got picked up by a hot guy. A hot, Amish guy. In a buggy. OK, so maybe it wasn’t my day. At least the hot guy didn’t get me beaten up or injured or put into prison.

I sighed. We reached a dirt drive.

He pulled on the reins a bit and murmured something to the horse. The cart slowed, stopped. I sighed and collected my pack. I turned to the Amish boy and handed him his hat back.

“Thanks for the ride and for the drink. And for the use of your hat.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. English. I hope you can find your way home and the end of your trouble,” he returned with a serious smile.

I waved as he flicked the reins again and clattered up the dirt drive to the farm. Time to start walking again.

By nightfall, I had reached a dead end. My westward road came out at a T-intersection in front of what looked like another park of some kind. A parking lot with a few cars and boat trailers stood on the other side of the road, and a sign announced that I’d reached the “Kaiser Lake Boat Ramp.”

In the declining light, I noticed a couple of convenient picnic shelters. These would be as good a place as any to lie down overnight. At least, I could eat my road rations in relative obscurity.

This morning, I woke up cold. Unlike my weeks on the road in June, the days were warm, but the nights were getting noticeably cooler. I’d been spoiled by sleeping Eustace’s warm barn every night. I rose in the early light to find a thick morning mist swirling about. I considered my options. I decided to wait until the mist lifted so I could get a sense of which way to go. I knew there must be a lake nearby somewhere just because the sign told me I was at a boat launch. But what kind of place was this? Would there be a source of water? A washroom? Important stuff like that.

I took the time finish my water bottle and munch on a small amount of dry cereal. I reflected on the previous day. I’d walked a long, long way, and I was tired. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long for the fog to lift. The bad news was that this place had outhouses only – no water. No food. Ugh.

I mooched around for a bit, which turned out to be one of my classic stupid decisions. In building the boat ramp, someone thought it was important to pile tons of large fractured rocks on the banks. Maybe these were supposed to hold the soil back or something. This was the sort of stuff my Dad used to haul from the quarry for a living.

Anyhow, I got the bright idea to clamber down the rocky banks to the water. What is it about me being drawn to water? I briefly toyed with the idea of swimming, but this place was way too public. I tried throwing a few little stones, which kerplunked into the still water forlornly. It was when I turned to climb back up that I put one foot wrong and my ankle twisted. I was down in the rocks in half a second.

Thank God for my work boots. Work-worn as they are, they kept me from getting hurt too bad. I could manage to walk, but I’d be limping for the rest of the day. Staggering back toward the road, I stumbled on a nature path leading away from the boat ramp but paralleling the shoreline. I figured this way was better than the road. It looked a lot easier on the legs and ankles than the hard surface of the road, and it had the advantage of keeping me out of sight from policemen and state troopers. And people would surely remember a kid limping along the highway.

The trail ran more or less south along the lakeshore, and if my ankle hadn’t hurt so bad, or if I weren’t so infernally hungry all the time, I might have appreciated it more. It was looking to be a pretty day.

Maybe I’d find a private place for a swim.

As it happened, I had no luck that way. The trail was incredibly beautiful, but every opening to the water was in full view of the path. I had to take more rest stops than usual because of my stupid ankle. Worse still, I regularly ran into other people using the trail as the sun climbed higher in the sky. Mostly joggers and dog-walkers. I doubt any of them paid me the slightest attention – at least that was what I hoped. I hadn’t realized I’d be much more conspicuous to them at their slower speed on the trail rather than to cars passing by on the road. Maybe the trail wasn't such a great idea.

When the trail came out on an actual road at the end of the lake, I actually breathed a sigh of relief. How stupid is that?

I headed south and entered the town of Kaiser Lake at exactly 11:24, according to the clock/temperature sign outside the Five County Bank on the outskirts of the village. Once I arrived in what had to be the center of the village, I stopped. I sniffed.

Something smelled good. Pizza, I guessed. There must have been a restaurant nearby. My stomach eagerly suggested to my brain that I stop for lunch; take it easy. My brain told my stomach to shut up – towns were bad news, and restaurants were even worse.

I had to get out of here before my stomach got me into trouble, but I dithered at the main intersection. Which way to go? Eventually, I opted for my usual method by taking the road that looked the least busy. It still ran west.

However, even when I had left Kaiser Lake behind me, my stomach was arguing for some additional input. No arguments from my brain about conserving food or saving money made the slightest impact. The growling and grumbling was getting bad.

Eventually, I found it necessary to retire into a nearby cornfield to eat. I ate more than I usually do – somehow, a handful of cereal and a cracker just didn’t cut it – and I realized I’d need to do some more grocery shopping in the next town.

All afternoon and into the late dusk, I walked. Flocks of blackbirds gathered on the wires overhead, chuckling and screeching to one another. Every now and then, one startled bird rose, and at the flick of a wing, the rest would follow in a cloud. Were they getting ready to head south? I pondered this as I watched the sun sink, glowing unnaturally huge and orange in the west. Then dusk took over. Around the time I could pick out just one star in the sky, I spotted a pleasant looking house set back from the road. Farther back behind it, I could make out a barn. At least one car sat in the driveway, but the house looked dark. It got me to thinking.

I walked up the drive. If anyone came out, I could say I was just looking for directions. Lame, I know, but what else was I going to say? Did they want their lawn mowed in the dark? There was a door on the front porch. I knocked. Rang the bell. Nobody home. Walking as quickly as I could, I headed back to the barn. I opened the door a crack and peered into the darkness. I smelled hay and animals. If there were animals, there would be relatively warm spot, and there would be water in the morning.

I slipped in and closed the door behind me. When my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw the space was much smaller than Eustace’s barn. Ahead was an opening which let in some light. On my left was a pen for animals, and there might have been another ahead of me. In the shadows, I saw creatures with long, furry necks. Llamas? I was in a barn with Llamas?

On my right was what I sought. A hay pile. It took me less than five minutes to scramble over the pile to the wall behind and build a little wall I could hide behind. It wasn't Eustace's barn, but it would do. I really do miss the old man. I got out my flashlight and shielded its glow from any eyes that might look in. Enough light for writing. Sleep will come quickly tonight, I think.

My deep gratitude goes to Craftingmom, who spent countless hours reading and editing this story.

Please leave reviews. I welcome remarks and comments of all sorts and varieties.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments

I guess we could call this a road chapter ...haha.

 

As in all his road chapters, Eric learns a few more things. One thing is, he now knows he's an English. :P and also what switchel is. ^_^
"I hope you can find your way home and the end of your trouble" was a beautiful thought and comment.

 

We can only wonder if he'll be discovered in the morning. Maybe be a llama farmer for the winter? ;)

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On 11/14/2015 06:45 AM, skinnydragon said:

I guess we could call this a road chapter ...haha.

 

As in all his road chapters, Eric learns a few more things. One thing is, he now knows he's an English. :P and also what switchel is. ^_^

"I hope you can find your way home and the end of your trouble" was a beautiful thought and comment.

 

We can only wonder if he'll be discovered in the morning. Maybe be a llama farmer for the winter? ;)

Eric's Amish savior spoke the truest sentiment in his farewell. Llamas are definitely very different from sheep; and this appears to be a much, much smaller place, in any event. At least Eric has some money to eat with, if he can find a store along the way...Thank you so much for reading and reviewing another 'road chapter.'

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You know, for as much hard luck that has come Eric's way, there is at least a few positive experiences. I think that has to be what keeps him going. Eventual hope maybe. If not that, I think he might have packed it in. His Amish friend left him with the most fitting send off. We all really hope he finds home too.
I hope that barn isn't trouble but just a rest stop.. and llamas? Oh boy!

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On 11/14/2015 03:27 PM, Defiance19 said:

You know, for as much hard luck that has come Eric's way, there is at least a few positive experiences. I think that has to be what keeps him going. Eventual hope maybe. If not that, I think he might have packed it in. His Amish friend left him with the most fitting send off. We all really hope he finds home too.

I hope that barn isn't trouble but just a rest stop.. and llamas? Oh boy!

Poor Eric is really missing Zeus race and the farm about now. This little barn just shows him how much he's lost. It's not a great place to hide, either...

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Okay.. how did i miss this?? Seriously I don't know how. Anyway ...

 

I liked this chapter, not too much to worry about. And I liked the Amish kid.. that was pretty kind of him and their goodbye was sweet and thoughtful.
Another barn.. wonder what we'll find next.

 

tim

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On 11/16/2015 09:30 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Okay.. how did i miss this?? Seriously I don't know how. Anyway ...

 

I liked this chapter, not too much to worry about. And I liked the Amish kid.. that was pretty kind of him and their goodbye was sweet and thoughtful.

Another barn.. wonder what we'll find next.

 

tim

Poor Eric just keeps trudging to the west. The Amish kid was fun, but ultimately, the thought that he might wind up with a big Amish family just didn't work out. But he's till on the he road...

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I think this is the first time I review this story, I started it two weeks ago, I think and I just can't stop. It's so good and depressing but still good! Poor Stefan :( Leaving Eustace's farm had to be really hard for him :(

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On 05/26/2016 07:25 PM, Manu said:

I think this is the first time I review this story, I started it two weeks ago, I think and I just can't stop. It's so good and depressing but still good! Poor Stefan :( Leaving Eustace's farm had to be really hard for him :(

It was certainly a great blow to him. I am so glad you are reading this story. It is hard going, but there is something about Stefan/Eric that keeps his hope going. Thank you for leaving a review! All the authors on GA appreciate reviews so much. It's what keeps us writing.

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Another barn!

 

I'm imaging a young Alexander Godunov (Daniel Hochleitner from the movie Witness) as the Amish wagon driver. ;-)

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On July 13, 2016 at 11:34 PM, droughtquake said:

Another barn!

 

I'm imaging a young Alexander Godunov (Daniel Hochleitner from the movie Witness) as the Amish wagon driver. ;-)

Oh, yeah. Like that image...

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Back to his nomadic ways. Sad it couldn't last long with Eustace, it seemed they were really getting on well + Toby and Stefan were just on the road back to restoring their friendship.

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1 hour ago, Higster said:

Back to his nomadic ways. Sad it couldn't last long with Eustace, it seemed they were really getting on well + Toby and Stefan were just on the road back to restoring their friendship.

 

Back to being a nomad, indeed. Eric doesn’t trust anyone enough to reveal the truth about himself, even though Eustace might have been understanding. But Ambrose would have been a whole different matter. Thank you for continuing to read the journal and for your comments. 

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2 hours ago, chris191070 said:

Not much for Eric to worry about in this chapter, I like how the Amish kid helped him out.

To the Amish kid, Eric must have been something a little strange, perhaps enough out of the ordinary to spice up the day. The episode must have made Eric's heart race, however. He feels hunted several times over. Thanks again for reading!

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