The Drifter

Submitted into Contest #135 in response to: Write about a casual act of bravery.... view prompt


American Fiction Crime

The Drifter

The dry leaves tumble across the dusty road, the trees gift of bronze and golds, to float in the warmth of a sleepy afternoon sun. The old pickup low on gas drives smoothly past the dry brown grass, and on through the quiet tired hard-pressed town. Shuttered shops line main street as the recession blooms, young and old without jobs or hope wander the sidewalks in silent groups. Despair in the air to see no end, to a mellow time as grief unfolds in bleeding hearts and distraught minds, sorrow at loved ones lost amid the unending toll taking friend and foe alike.

Each town the same, just passing through, alone with his thoughts his partner quiet looking too, out of the dusty grimed unwashed windows. Dark brown eyes glance at him longingly, knowing that inquisitive gaze he turns the wheel smiling sadly. Time to stop and restock provisions and stretch their cramped tired limbs once more and iron out those age old crinkles. The gas station empty as the price of fuel sharply rises, his custom needed to fill near empty purses, of a place quiet and slowly dying bereft of wealthy patrons passing by them.

He pulls up next to the shop, to the vacant space upon the empty lot. Now just a short hop to that lonely shop, just another place and one last stop. Opening the door of his aged old truck the hinges squeaking loudly, the tired old girl needs his attention badly, the grease gun ready to ease her aching well worn joints. He pats the dashboard with a rough hard palm, the plastic warm to his cold fingered hand, and a gentle touch for a much loved truck. His cap shades his tired grey-blue eyes, his weathered coat upon his scarred back rides higher, his wallet of worn leather full of new pristine notes, time to spend his pension wisely. Looking beside him at his partner grinning, a treat for her something nice and filling.

He turns in his seat to reach behind him and opens the chair dropping to a hard landing, bouncing on thick cushioned air filled tyres his chariot awaits its burly driver. He lowers himself into the sunken seat far below him where once were his feet, powerful arms grip the doors large handle, a sigh as his large callused hands enclose those familiar well worn rims. His long blades sat across the vacant warm back seat, abandoned for now until later, his stumps still tender after yesterdays long journey, following the exhausting track he remembered, to the long forgotten icy lake reflecting those fluffy clouds in timeless drifts.

The total freedom they give them both as they loped wild and free through paths and slopes, filled with red and gold autumnal leaves, the forest tracks thick with wet green moss and lichen coated broken branches, the fresh sweet breeze fragrant with pine and alder. The tonic he needed to take away his melancholy memories, of a young life taken and a future broken, reality bleaker than was hoped for in that long lost remembered past. For his friend is near and they are eager to meet again beneath the engraved white marble stone, gathered together as a company obediently stood in lines so crisp and ever so starkly familiar. Proud they stand through sun and rain and harsh frosted winters wreathed in snow, to see spring bursting with joyful life and flowers bright in varied colours, wild birds calling green grass growing fed by their last sad address, the rich dark earth their final hearth and lonely home.

He laughs to see her waiting for him, her black hair glossy in the bright sun shining, the pair on this last long journey, a trip he wants never to end, but like his life he sees the terminal, the final heavenly portal open calling, that leads to the magical place that poets speak of. Wheeling himself through the weathered door to the chime of a bell, a charming reminder of a better past. He looks up to see an enchanting angel.

She looks around from her avid gaze, a beautiful girl behind a low bleached counter. Her phone attached by a white cord to her swaying head, a young woman the colour of rich dark chocolate, a smile so white it dazzles his gaze, eyes so bright it takes your breath away. But behind him a young man presses past him to greet the goddess with the hazel eyes. Tucking a long strand of woven midnight hair behind her, a small delicate ear exposed encrusted with gold rings large and glowing brightly, her greeting warm and so inviting.

The handsome young man his uniform pristine leans over to caress her smooth unblemished lustrous sheen. Looking down her freckled face blushes, to see the man with the hard scarred features. She apologises for her boyfriends behaviour, the boy dismissive of the scruffy stranger. He continues to badger her with his questions, he says it’s his last night before he departs to far flung places. She nods acquiescing to his final request for one last night, to spend it under stars and blankets, to dream together under shooting stars.

He wheels past the brash young man his partner staring with an angry look, for she knows him better than anyone else, he resigned to be just dismissed overlooked. Eight years his longest relationship to date, his forty two years, twenty serving, his fading stripes proof of his historic, loyal and faithful service. Though she also walks with a limp from her own bloody battle injuries, she flinches not, just hard as nails, that's his Kira, tough and strong though older now but just as quick.

They are a matching pair, just two old vets walking and wheeling side by side, survivors of that catastrophic call, a dance with death, one of many a close and hair raising encounter, and a final trip to a lonely home, with the conflicts war heroes. He had seen their names inscribed in brass, their remains covered by our stars and stripes, the polished wood reflecting bright sunlight as one by one they greet their grieving heart broken Families. Parents in shock at their unexpected loss. Wives and husbands distraught wailing, bewildered frightened children crying with them. Friends tears dripping from sad eyes red and bloated.

There was no one to greet the lonely orphan, wounded in action, his partner by him. Taking to the road when he was fit and able, his old truck just as tired but nimble, running through tarmacked roads and dirt tracks in rough terrain. So much life to see and garner to short a time to regret his choices, he followed a path he thought was brightest, not sure if any other would of made him happier. He browses the shelves, hearing the bell, he wonders if the youth had departed, his manners poor, his timing flawless, the girls sweet smile had brightened his long dark day, though his partner nudges him, reminding him, of his forgotten purpose. Again to browse and make his purchase.

The loud noise of shouting voices, angry remarks and the clash of bodies, shelves crashing, produce falling. A gun shot loud and screaming noises, angry shouts and demands made with violent intentions, recalling conflict in distant places. He calls out knowing the raiders desperate, to gather money and steal their hard earned wealth, money earned with blood and sweat, and the lives of brothers and sweet sisters. Two men stand armed, one with a long bat, the other a dangerous and deadly hand gun. Pistol pointed to a terrified girl, the boy unconscious, his efforts pointless. The man with the bat calls to him sharply, to stand and walk forward. He laughs at this desperate encounter, shouting out in irate anger! How can I stand without my legs! why don’t you come and aid me big man or are you afraid of a wheel bound person.

His partner smarter, stalking down the far quiet aisle and taking longer creeping closer, they are both unarmed but that’s no barrier to facing unforeseen hard danger. The two punks after cash to feed their bitter addicted habit, jumpy at the unexpected complication of an unseen voice calling back, filled with deep irony, wasted on their uneducated disturbed minds. Hey man you got money cripple? as he spots him, in the security mirror, silent wheels turning, a determined damaged man charging. Once more into the fray, the old soldier in harms way, to save the bright girl and her stupid partner.

He wheels himself around the end, of the aisle piled high with tins and boxes, and nods at him, the masked man with a surly attitude. In the pack he says, you going to rob me of my pension big man. Knock off the back chat and throw your wallet over half man, short man, dead man. No can do! its in the pack at the bottom of my stuff, you want to rummage about in an old mans smalls? be my guest and take the rest! He can tell the man is boiling over, frustrated at his delaying tactics, marching down the tidy aisle baseball bat trailing the goods on the lowest shelf, spilling the contents onto the well swept floor. He wags a finger at him, you think you’re a smartass, just cos you’re in that chair don’t think I won’t spill you out of it he declares. You mean nothing to me but a payday you scruffy piece of garbage! Now do as your told half man, or I'll make you a head shorter as well!

His accomplice is eyeing the terrified girl, lust in his blood shot greedy eyes, glancing at her boyfriend as he stirs from the battering he had just taken, his smart mouth now bleeding, onto the cold hard clean floor. What you looking at sweet cake, you fancy a bit in the back room eh? I'll treat you real well, his promise a horror show all in itself. She shakes her head side to side, so vigorously her earing's chime, her boyfriends gift her demise, the situation escalating into a real dark nightmare, only a hero could save her name day. Her focus on the end of the gun pointing at her delicate face and the masked toothy grin above it, her last day tears dripping.

Open the till the second man says to her frightened face, hazel eyes round and wide, she does as she's told, wisely obedient to the madman grinning. A tap and the draw opens, telling her to back off he leans over to pull the bills out of the till asking where the rest of the money is, his face now red beneath its covering, a couple of hundred dollars no where near enough for them. That’s all there is he disclaims, it’s been quiet all day she explains, desperate her honest face not lying. She pleads her case casting her gold towards him. Taking out his frustration he kicks the sprawled figure at his feet and bends to reach inside the young man’s jacket, his face brightening as he liberates the flush leather service man's wallet. A greedy grin, dirty fingers parting paper notes with presidents faces.

The skinny intruder with the big bat pushes, the rough weapon in the veterans chest trying and failing to intimidate him, a hard man used to death and grieving. He leans down to smile at him his un-brushed teeth and bad breath soaked with cheap sharp whiskey, washing over the ex-soldier full of contempt, of a human with bad intent. Confident that here is another coward, he ignores the sharp hard look from a dauntless soldier, the town seems full of frightened people trying to avoid any conflict at any cost. The stranger in the chair grins back, with a maniacal smile, and a delightful cough, blood dripping from his bleeding lungs, he swallows the iron taste, just another problem to overcome. The robber feels the bat being tugged by the disabled man's strong arm, as his fingers take a vice like grip. The feint enough to distract him from the big meaty paw, with terrible force slamming into his fragile spotty unshaved chin.

His jaw broken by the mighty blow he lets go of the weapon as he turns away, holding his flapping maw, the loose and bloody jaw, but he is too slow to get away, the handle of the bat slammed hard into his undefended exposed kidneys, the veteran a nasty brawling master. He drops to his knees as the finest baseball swing the soldier had ever managed, sitting straight arms extended, he sees the ball leave the crowded park as it connects with the assailants temple, dropping him to the cold hard floor. Unconscious and battered sideways, tins of beans and peas rain down in an almighty cascade, of falling debris and rolling tins alerting the intent gunman, focused on pealing green notes from the young recruits sparse savings.

The girl had seen the battle at the far end of the well lit aisle, her eyes full of tears to see the gunman raise his deadly pistol, at the lonely half man dragging his brother aside, to force his chair through the cluttered floor, the bat tidily across his vacant knees. Triumphant he aims at the legless mans head and cocks the pistol, with a grim dark grin. Angry he shouts I’m going to end your sorry life, but before he can pull the trigger the second veteran pounces.

The grey muzzled black and rust coloured Dobermann, with lightening speed, and gleeful pride, she launches at the masked man's arm invitingly extended. Her powerful jaws clamping down onto an exposed and fleshy wrist, his crisp sharp cry as the weapon discharges, into the now broken grey tiled floor. Unbelievable pain enfolds him as the canines crush his extended wrist, tearing skin and exposing tendons. He lurches into the low counter, notes and confectionary spilling around him, as the writhing hound growls deeply with raging anger climbing on him. Dropping the pistol the man bunches his other desperate fist, punching the army dog in the side of her greying head, sliding slowly to the broken floor.

The war hound enraged re-bites the wrist forcing the broken limp limb into the back of her devastating jaw, the whole power of which is exerted on that bloody damaged appendage now encased in her mighty maw. Screaming loudly in acute pain, the vice like grip again crushes bones, nerves and sinews, ragged flesh and loose skin, covered in his blood, flowing red and rich, the taste metallic and ever so familiar to the damaged old dog of the Afghan-war.

Her partner white with rage his anger shows no bounds at seeing her hurt, he shouts loudly for the intruder, to stop his struggling and accept defeat, calling on him to at last surrender. As the Veteran approaches through the wreckage, rolling over bags of produce, potato chips and battered candy lying squashed all about, he calls to Kira loudly ‘Out’. The service dog obedient to his spoken word spits out the bleeding wreck that is the mans now useless hand. The Dobermann silent, apart from her intimidating rumbling, grumbling, growling, watching, waiting for the slightest movement, her muscles tense her coat glowing, shining in the setting orange sun her cropped ears focused forward, her dark brown eyes staring, glaring, her red mouth awash with the mans rich red life giving blood.

He points the bat at the masked pain filled face, and tells him plainly if he moves he's fish bait, a nod to his partner watching the man's gaze waver. He tells him plainly, she will kill you kid! Have no doubt! and you will not be her first but her third big fat trout. The Taliban had placed a high price on her skin, in Pashto they called her Dark Stalker, she never failed to bring us home, avoiding all of the cunningly laid nasty ambushes. They set them daily, waiting for us every evening, hoping to rid themselves of a dark night terror and her loyal and able well armed warband.

Until that fateful last day, the IED beside the deserted road, that destroyed his legs and badly wounded his faithful hound. He looks into the girls hazel eyes and smiles at her, telling her it's OK, Kira's here and she'll defend you. The K9 glancing at the angel, teeth red and charming. She blows out a breath wiping her tears away with relief, her life is safe with the awesome sentinel guarding. A duty she performs with a real passion, that she had for every dangerous mission. He asks that she call 911, Police and Paramedics we need them both, watching as trembling long fine fingers punch silent numbers on her pretty I-Phone held in her well manicured long nailed hand, her words hesitant but full of anger. Not sure if the man he struck will survive his encounter with a cold eyed disabled veteran and his trusty violent, monstrous black and rust, agile partner.

Just goes to show you never know, what people are capable of achieving, when life no longer has a meaning, death not feared as the dark reaper draws nearer. His terminal cancer eating his organs, his damaged lungs on fire and already shortening his hard selfless life. A fortunate survivor of two brutal tours of a dangerous but worthy duty. Wondering whether he will need the pistol, which sits lonely in the pickups glove compartment, locked within his aged creaking truck. His service pistol sits silent with just two rounds remaining. One for Kira and the other for himself, when that sad time finally comes, but the old girl showing she still has plenty of fight in her famous old bones, man's best friend and his fearless faithful awesome companion.

The two cruisers lights flashing tear through the centre of the quiet town pursued by the fire truck blaring loudly and trailing screaming ambulance. Faces turn in wonder watching the loud convoy enroute to the service station at the edge of the sleepy town, the approach to main street busy now as inquisitive people flock to watch the exciting turmoil. The two police officers revolvers out are first into the raided store. The handgun is on the clustered counter along side a bloody baseball bat. A masked assailant face uncovered sits with his back to the low messy counter, his right wrist wrapped in a bloodstained rag.

Looking beyond the smiling man sat in a blood splattered wheelchair his missing legs awash with flour and eggs, chatting to Marcy the forecourt girl and Bobby holding a bag of ice to the his swollen face, his temple bloody, bruised. They spot a sprawled figure surrounded by half the contents of one side of the tumbled aisle and a two wheeled trail through flour and broken eggs. The officer asks about the unconscious man, the veteran telling him he had to 'lay him out'. Incapacitate! sounds better from the glib officer with a dark but funny sense of humour. A careless shrug, the soldier saying, he’s not sure how bad he is! Cold eyes not interested in the mouthy lout, very pleased with his awesome clout, still hearing the crowd roaring for one last brilliant home run. The trooper knows the pair, saying with despair. They both are a real bad lot! he says but just one of many running amok.

The injured robber goes to move but Kira kicks off in the groove, the savage barking just an inch from a pale terrified face, her dripping saliva running down his blood stained cheeks, making him freeze his bones with a sudden fright. The amused officer can see the military service harness, the mighty Dobermann sideways on, her bravery award and purple heart, boldly displayed, on her finely embroidered faded panel. Asking if she is ok to approach! wary of her savage reproach. Her glare intent, on the shaking wreck, crying now, full of shame and bleeding regret.

A command and she obediently sits beside his now brake wheeled dusty chair. He pats her head as she licks his hand. The second officer asking if he’s the hero, that saved the day? No he says shaking his grizzled head the scar white on blushing cheek, I'm just a drifter passing through. A look from the shocked girl as he gazes at her, smiling he says you guys are the real deal, unsung heroes walking bye. Risking your lives night and day to serve and protect and uphold our imperfect but important laws, and the boys and girls that carry our flag through distant lands, they that stand in harms way, each and every dangerous day. It was just chance I happened to need groceries today, and a treat for Kira licking his hand. We are just a pair of worn out veterans, on a last journey to fulfil a promise we all did make, to our dying comrades.

Will we be free to continue on, once you get your detailed statement? I need to go, to visit a friend, the military cemetery awaits them both, on the edge of a quiet nameless town. It's been a while since I saw his buddy last. Leaving the now buzzing place towards his intended long sought after goal. He looks in the mirror at the tall tattered billboard, as a place called Hope slides forlornly bye them. It is the home where his brother in arms was finally laid to a quiet rest. He is visiting all the friends he has loved and sadly lost, from the dry arid fields of a far harsh land they were sadly forced to forsaken. He will never forget those anguished eyes of a hopeless people. Wondering if he will have enough time to see them all before the end of the gathering Fall, and the sun finally sets on his darkening world. He is content to go on another inevitable different journey, with his faithful friend walking always beside him.

Kira means 'Light' and so she is, the light of his entire life the reason he rises each morning to see to her smiling face frowning. He owes her his everything as he lives and breathes, the freedom they fought for without regret, a selfless sacrifice to almighty god and a grateful federal people, to all his friends lost in battle, and to everyone that lives and breathes in this great land. Knowing he will see them again very soon wiping his bloody chin on dusty sleeve. That other world where all the countless Heroes reside, awaiting a simple man, just a humble brave soldier. 

A selfless stranger and his best friend on life's final peaceful adventure. The sun setting one last time on an unsung hero and his awesome faithful Dobermann Pincher.

March 02, 2022 18:09

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J.C. Lovero
12:54 Mar 10, 2022

Hi Paul, Thanks for sharing this piece with us! You have vivid descriptions in here that really transported me to a different place.


Paul Brown
13:16 Mar 10, 2022

Thanks J.C. it's great to have your feedback, glad you liked the story. :)


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Paul Brown
01:46 Mar 04, 2022

I hope you guys enjoy the story, I call it broken verse! Basically because i can't rhyme, no poet to write the awkward lines. The story came to me as I followed my running wife, cycling fast to keep in stride. Seven miles enough to form the basic plot, a night to get it almost right. A shout out to all those men and women that serve with brave hearts, and also their dedicated loyal and tireless police and war dogs.


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