Bambi Peters

The Stranger

      It was a boring town.  The kind of place that children grew up in and left, never to return again.  So, youíll understand why we did it.  Why we followed that man when he came.  Why we believed a stranger.  Maybe it was for some excitement.  I guess I canít really say.
     Before I confuse you, let me explain.  It happened years ago. So many more than I care to remember.  It was me, Miranda and Jessica, all of us 14 years old and ready to conquer the world.  Or so we thought.  Were we naïve?  I guess so, but itís to be expected.  When you live in a town sheltered from crime, you learn to trust people you shouldnít.  Iíve never talked about this before; youíre the first person Iíve told.  Please donít judge me. If you were there youíd understand.  I know you would.  And, itís a secret. 
     You have to promise to keep this just between us.
     Okay, well it was a day like any other; Iíd done my chores and ran off to play with my friends.  We always met at the edge of Mirandaís street each day at 2.  I was running a bit late that day, so I picked up my pace.  Lord, it was hot that afternoon and I can still feel the sweat rolling off my neck as if it were yesterday.  Isnít it weird the things you remember? Anyway, I turned the corner and there they were, waiting, impatiently.
     ďWhat took you so long,Ē Miranda demanded.  ďItís hotter than hell out here,Ē she complained.   I offered my excuses and we set off for the cave. 
     Well, to be honest, it really wasnít a cave, thatís just what we called it. 
     It was really just a mix of overgrown plants and a tarp we had strung up together between two trees.  It was our secret place, set far, far back in a wooded area that most people didnít bother to explore.  We used our little cave as the setting for our most private talks.  Lately, boys and sex had dominated these conversations.  I was the leader in these talks since a boy had just recently felt me up.  That was big news back then.
     We would chat for hours about anything and everything until almost before dark.  No matter how brave we liked to think we were, the dark still scared us. It would take us at least a half an hour to reach our spot, if we hurried.
    This is where my memory starts to get a little shaky.  Or maybe I just donít want to remember.  Is that possible?
      I think we had been there for a half an hour before he showed up.  We were sitting together and laughing.  I do recall that.  Laughing, thatís what Jessica did best.  Sorry, sometimes I lose my train of thought.  Anyway, I canít tell you the exact moment he appeared but he scared us to death.
     ďHey girls,Ē he said as he casually ducked beneath our tarp.  He was an older man with light blue eyes.  You know, I can still picture his face clearly; like a photograph in my mind.  So, there we were, huddled together and eyeing him with a little puzzlement, but no fear.  What was a man doing all alone, this far out in the woods?  In our spot nonetheless?  He came in and sat down next to Miranda.  I wish I could remember what he said.  I wish I could tell you why we left our cave and followed him.  It was just that something about him was believable and we were so foolishly young and trusting.
      He took us further and further out.  It started to get dark and thatís when we became a little frightened.  He chatted easily as we walked.  What was he saying?  I remember Miranda looked at me and smiled.  She grasped my hand; just for a second.  It was as if she was trying to say that it was going to be okay and not to worry.
     Have you ever betrayed a friend?  Done something so horrible that you had to keep it to yourself your entire life?  Iím so old now that I feel it doesnít matter anymore.   And Iíve always wanted to tell you.  Youíre so much like me, I know youíll understand.  And maybe confession will absolve my sins before I die.  Do you think so?
     Now, picture this in your mind.  We were walking, the four of us.  It was dark and all of a sudden we saw his cabin come into view.  It was pretty large but a little rickety looking.  It was way out further than I even knew our woods could go.  I wonder if itís still there.  You should try to go find it.  That might be kind of fun.  What do you think?  Anyway, we stepped up to the door and I saw a bible sitting on the porch swing.  That was a good sign; he couldnít be all that bad, right?   He turned and looked at me with those eyes, they were almost translucent.  And thatís when I saw it. 
     Something evil, something I couldnít comprehend.
      I tried to reassure myself that everything was okay but, itís like I knew we should leave this man and head back to our homes.  But I didnít want to. 
I canít explain it.  There was some draw to him.  Some kind of appeal that made me want to believe him, be close to him.
      What happened next has haunted me for forty some years.  Iím not sure you even want to know.  But Iíll tell you.  He killed her; while we watched.  He murdered Jessica in front of us and we never even tried to run away.  Were we frozen with fear?  Itís hard to say.  But, I still get flashbacks. I can see him, her, the knife, the blood, the horror.  Miranda covered her face with her hands the entire time; why didnít I?  Itís not like I wanted to watchÖ. I mean, who would?  But, I couldnít look away.  Isnít that weird? 
     Jesus, it was long ago but itís still so fresh in my memory.  Iím still as tormented today as I was then.  And I should be.
     He left Jessica on the floor and came toward us.   Why didnít we run?  Itís the million dollar question that I just canít answer.  All I could do was stare at her body lying lifeless on the floor.  Miranda was screaming; I think she was in shock.  But, he never took his eyes off of me.  He was reading my thoughts.  He knew.
      You know, everyone still thinks that theyíre missing.  I never told anyone.  Not one single soul.  Why would I?  I didnít want to get in trouble.  No one knows the real story and itís too late to tell the truth, donít you think?  Donít look at me like that, you obviously donít understand.  I know you would have done exactly what I did.  Anyone would.
      Just let me finish,okay?   So, I was watching him; he was watching me.  I was sort of fascinated by the scene.  God, it was just like a movie.  Sort of like one Iíd seen the week prior, except there was no popcorn, and this was real.
      I was hypnotized by the crimson river that was flowing away from Jessica and forming a little pool around his feet.  I didnít even look at him as he whispered four magic words to me, "Itís you or her."  He knew my decision before he even asked me the question.  Mirandaís face twisted with horror and I could see her eyes pleading with me, but saving her life was never an option.
      I took one last look around me, but I couldnít see as I normally did.  My sight was distorted into some kind of fragmented vision that ran in fast forward through my mind.  I could hear Miranda screaming my name, could feel the horror in the air but I was strangely unaffected.  ďGo,Ē he said calmly and I left that house in the dead of night.  I rehearsed my story in my mind as I ran blindlessly through the dark.  I memorized every detail, how Miranda and Jessica never even showed up at our cave that afternoon, how I waited until dark and went looking for them.  How I got lost and finally, remarkably, made my way home safe from harm.  I knew Iíd have to put on a sad, tear streaked face for my performance, but until then, I let the exhilaration fill me.  I thanked God for my life on my way home that day and I appreciated the world like never before.  Donít look at me like that, you would have chosen your own life, just like I did.  And, itís not like I didnít feel bad, of course I did, but you have to look out for yourself in this world. Anyway, I skipped all the way home that night and never looked back. Donít act so shocked, I didnít even do anything wrong.  Everything happens for a reason.  You look so frightened, are you scared of me? Are you shaking?  You know, Iím not so sure you should leave this house tonight. 
     Itís pretty late and I wouldnít want you telling anyone this story. Is that friend you brought with you already sleeping?  Is your mind clear?  Because it looks like you have a decision to make.

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