My second attempt at Flash Fiction, I continue with Tales of the Wanderers. They Wanderers were introduced in my first piece of Flash Fiction (HERE, with the re-edited version HERE following feedback from some readers). The particular idea with this story has been in and out of my conscious thought for about a month now, and today at lunch I decided to write it. As usual, I would appreciate critiques, suggestion, and large bags of money for the movie rights to it.
Tales of the Wanderers: The Follower
Fourteen year old Cal rushed to the edge of the small North Dakota community. Too few to qualify as a town, the houses stood along Route 7, where few cars traveled, and fewer still stopped. Cal marveled at the cars trying to find a parking place along the road, and at the people getting out and heading to a group already assembled to watch the approaching Wanderer.
He had read about them, the Wanderers, and had watched documentaries about them, but had never seen one in person. He knew they were dangerous, and that one did not approach a Wanderer unless wanting to get shot. Shot was not the right word; lased was more appropriate. Most people did not survive the experience, so it was best not to initiate contact. No, not contact; Wanderers had approached people, seemingly observing them for a while, and then moving on. It was more like an examination by a silent and deadly robot than contact with a sentient being.
Skirting the crowd, Cal headed down the wash. Cal figured the Wanderer was going under the road. He would hide behind the columns, and observe undetected as it went by.
When he got there, he saw he was not the only one with that idea. Bill and Andy were already there. He waved, and picked a different column too hide behind; he did not like those boys much; they had a streak of meanness best left unprovoked.
As the Wanderer approached, he could hear snickering coming from the two boys. He saw one of them point and laugh. From his crouch, he rose to see what amused them so. A turtle. A turtle on its back on a small mound so it could not reach the ground. Cal looked at the approaching Wanderer. It was going to go right through where the turtle was. It might miss it, but it might not.
Call hesitated, all the while trying to predict the exact path of the Wanderer. No good; it was heading right at the turtle. Without thinking, Cal sprang from his hiding spot and raced for the turtle. He kept an eye on the closing Wanderer, and registered a gasp from the boys as he slid to a stop next to the turtle. He looked up and realized the Wanderer was much closer than he had estimated; so close he could make out individual smudges on it’s shell. Cal stood frozen as the Wanderer slowly advanced.
He bent down, picked up the turtle which had now retreated into its shell, and raised up. The Wanderer had stopped, not twenty feet from him. Cal heard the exclamations and murmurs from the crowd that had descended into the wash behind the Wanderer. Nothing was happening, so he slowly retreated to the side. The Wanderer did not move. As he got more distance he became aware of his heart beat, and needing to breathe. He did so as he slowly continued to move. He stopped when his back bumped into a column.
He kept an eye on the Wanderer as he put the turtle down and stood upright again. He thought about hiding, but it would be futile. No one and nothing moved. A minute passed, and he heard a scraping. The turtle was slowly making its way into the brush.
More minutes passed, and Cal heard someone urging him to move away from the machine.
He started slowly moving again, heading for the other side of the underpass, and away from the Wanderer. He had not gone ten feet when it too moved, more or less continuing along its original direction, and almost matching Cal’s pace. By the time he reached the other side of the underpass the crowd had retreated a hundred yards or so, and they were yelling at him to scramble up the embankment and onto the road. The moment he hit the sunlight, he did just that.
When he reached the road he stopped. Despite the warm sun, he felt a cold chill even as he trembled from the adrenaline. He heard more yelling, and turned to see the Wanderer coming up the same path he had taken. Cal wanted to run, but he could not. He watched the Wanderer as it came to a stop ten feet or so from where he stood. At this distance, he could hear a faint noise, almost a hum, but not quite.
Again minutes passed, and Cal eventually turned and started walking along the road toward the crowd.
He did not look back, but he knew the Wander was following him because the crowd retreated as he advanced. He did not know what to do, so he did the only thing he could think of; he headed home. He almost smiled at the thought of asking his mother if he could keep his new-found friend.
Later over a billion people watched a video of Cal walking, the Wanderer following as if on a leash. That same video showed his mother running out of the house toward Cal, and Cal yelling for her to stop. It was too late. The beam was not visible, but the result was; his mother crumpled as if the life strings that held her up had been cut, as indeed they had been. The video cut as Cal ran to her.
That had been 7 years ago, and Cal no longer allowed anyone to approach him. More had died, including a SWAT team which tried to separate him from the Wanderer. But today was different. Here, in the parched hills of Wyoming, he was heading toward a distant figure walking toward him. It had taken lots of coordination, messages exchanged at drop points, and no small amount of support by a group of rotating volunteers who years ago had taken it upon themselves to keep him provided with tents, clothing, and food as he had wandered through a number of states.
He had lost count of the places he’d been, but all the places had one thing in common; they were not populated. They had tried leaving him phones and radios, but the interference from the Wanderer made them unusable. He had even stopped noticing the helicopters which occasionally accompanied him and his Wanderer. Some were news helicopters, some were scientists, some were military, but they all kept a healthy distance.
Today, as he studied the approaching figure, he became aware of dozens of helicopters, some pushing their luck by pressing closer than was probably wise. He stopped and looked back at his Wanderer, now also stopped. Over the course of seven years, the distance between them had settled on about thirty feet. Sometimes more, but seldom less. He looked back to the approaching figure, and wondered if this would be the beginning of a new chapter in his now messed-up life, or the end of it. For the approaching figure also had a Wanderer in tow. No one knew what would happen when they would meet at the rendezvous point.
He resumed walking. The figure resolved into the person he had seen in pictures. Her name was Linda. She was a year younger than him, and three years ago had lost her little sister to the Wanderer which now followed her. They stopped, and from fifty feet apart they looked at each other.
Cal saw a girl still carrying the grief of her loss, and the burden of a life without social interaction. He thought she would be pretty had she smiled.
Linda saw a serious young man, his face devoid of emotion. He looked fit and tanned.
“Are you afraid?”
“No.” She replied.
They walked toward each other, unsure but determined. The Wanderers did not move. As they neared, involuntary tears streamed down Linda’s face, and as they hugged, Cal felt his own tears releasing a flood of emotions. They did not let go of each other for a long time.