This is a short story I wrote after repeatedly running into the same man walking over and over again. One day, he’d be near my neighborhood. The next, five miles away- always walking, always wearing the same clothes.
I’ve always liked the story, and attempted to get it published to no avail. Now, between family, school and other creative pursuits, I rarely have time to blog. I thought I would release “The Wanderer” as a serial so that it would at least get some exposure, and hopefully bring a few readers some enjoyment.
Maybe today Carl would tell her the truth. He had tried before. As he practiced the dialogue in his head, he was aware he sounded like a lunatic. How does one say “Darkness will be released on this city, unless I find the portal before it does?”
Perhaps he was crazy. He had been fighting this battle for so long that it had become a reflex, motion without consciousness. Any fervor for his task had been long ago abandoned, perhaps his sanity along with it.
The only emotion he had felt in ages was the hidden yet joyful anticipation as he watched her walking toward him with a smile on her face; a sandwich and pamphlet in her hands.
“You know you can stop giving me these pamphlets. You’ve probably handed me a hundred by now.”
“I know,” Maria said. “But I’m hoping if I hand you enough pamphlets, you might come and visit me one day and take advantage of some of our services. Did I tell you we just got additional funding for the ‘back to work’ program? We’re partnering with the Adult Education League. We’ll be able to find jobs for hundreds of people who need them. One of those people could be you.” She smiled in her infectious manner and nudged him with her elbow as she said the last sentence.
With another person, she might not have taken such a casual tone. But they had been running into each other on the streets for a couple of years. It started with her simply handing him a lunch bag and shelter information as he passed by. After a few months, she would fall in step with him and walk a block or two when their paths crossed. They began chatting, first about the shelter and its programs, and over time, about more personal topics- how she became a social worker, how he had ended up on the street. Of course, he only offered the believable portion of that story. He had never alluded to stumbling through a portal and spending the next thirty years doomed to walk the city.
“That’s great. I’m sure the people you find jobs for will be really thankful,” he said.
“Why are you so determined to stay out here?” she asked. “In all the years I have been out working for the shelter, you are one of the most intelligent and likeable people I’ve ever run in to. I know we could help you get back on your feet. You could make a life for yourself.”
“I have a life. Fresh air, plenty of exercise. What could be better than that?”
Just then, a car backfired and a black cloud filled the air. The car struggled to the corner and turned, coughing the entire way.
“Well, fresh air is debatable,” he said. It felt good to make a joke, even if it was a lame one. A normal guy talking to a girl would attempt to be funny.
They passed a young woman crouched behind a building, sitting on the sidewalk. She looked to be all of fourteen, her face painted brown with dirt, her hair unkempt and thick with grease. Without another word, Maria’s path diverged as she made her way to the girl. Carl kept walking. He had a date with destiny.
Carl knew he was a joke. He noticed groups of kids whispering and giggling as he passed by. Holding their skateboards and backpacks, they’d nudge each other, motioning in his direction. Over time, the whispers got more brazen. Now, at least a few times a week he’d hear a voice call out “Hey Wanderer!”
Some would pull out their cell phones and take a photo as he walked by. Had he been able to access the internet, he might have happened upon these portraits via social networking sites, with captions like “The Wanderer needs to wander into a shower.”
The Wanderer. That was the name he’d been given. He was among the colorful, insane regulars that inhabit the streets. In his travels, he’d run into a few others. A woman referred to as “The Wig Lady” for her propensity to wear multiple wigs, matted with dirt and melted into peaks. “The Insane Jogger”- an older gentleman who took his love of fitness to the level of obsession, shouting at passersby to “stop being so weak” and join him for a run. Carl had seen these people in his travels. To him, like everyone else, they appeared legitimately insane. What must he look like to be grouped in their company?
He had long ago stopped looking at his reflection in windows, keeping his eyes to the sidewalk in case they should happen upon his appearance. He knew he looked ridiculous.
From the moment he stumbled through that first portal, his appearance, other than gaining layers of dirt and wear, had gone unchanged. His hair fell to his shoulder and was ridiculously permed- a style that looked ludicrous even before it was chosen for the next three decades. Carl paired his poodle locks with just a hint of a mustache. A slight man, his clothes were dangling off of him- a denim vest with an REO Speedwagon shirt underneath, and bell bottom jeans. He finished the look with a leather cabbie hat and tinted sunglasses. The outfit was declining in popularity when he put it on for the first time, but a source of true embarrassment when forced to sport it for all of eternity.
Why had he chosen this outfit? If only he had selected jeans and a t-shirt, a standard haircut, maybe he could blend in. Upon its initial wearing, his motive was not to camouflage. He wanted to stand out. At first glance, people at concerts and clubs would dismiss him as a dirt bag. Ladies did not stare in his direction- until later in the night. As two drinks became three, he started to look like a man who could get things done- a backstage pass to see the band, a bag of coke to keep the party going after the bars closed. In the right crowd, his look clued others in to the services he could offer.
On one such night, Carl decided to mix work with pleasure. Carl was a regular at a few clubs, mostly dive bars that opted for live rock and roll bands on the weekends. The owners liked having him around- when people were having a good time; they spent more time at the bar and purchased more drinks. But he had an understanding with these establishments- Carl did his business out back.
Carl made small talk with a couple of ladies at the bar. Though a bit rough around the edges, they were both attractive enough- particularly the blond. Short skirt, big tits, good enough. Shots began to flow, as did the talk of blow. Carl mentioned that he might be able to help them out.
As he led them to the alley to conduct a trade, Carl became aware of two things: he was more drunk than anticipated, and he was being followed.
Two men from the club had also wandered out back. Carl’s female companions retraced their steps around the corner, pausing for instructions from one of the men as they left. The guys were not huge- average height and build. But compared to Carl’s small frame, they towered like gladiators.
Carl knew he was in trouble. Words sputtered from his lips in stuttering bursts as he attempted to talk his way out of the predicament. The conversation was halted as a fist connected with his jaw.
A cliché scenario, they beat him to the point of unconsciousness, took his money and his dope, and left the way they came. When he came to, Carl saw the portal.
He wasn’t responsible for saving the world, just a small portion of it. People had been raping, killing and robbing each other since man came into existence. Carl knew his actions wouldn’t force evil doers to rethink their ways, repent for good, and join Green Peace.
At the same time, his measures were purposeful. The portals opened two ways, and could be utilized only once. If he was the first traveler to enter the door, no harm would be done. He simply ended up on another street corner a few blocks or miles away. However, if the door was opened from the other side, atrocity would occur.