The Stranger – First Four Chapters

Stranger, The - Jacky Dahlhaus.jpg

Chapter 1

Ash

Ashley stormed outside, the red fog of her rage clouding her vision. The freezing, Alaskan air swirled into her lungs, the temperature a stark contrast to the temperature she was feeling inside. The pristine surface of the snow underneath her boots creaked softly while anger screamed inside her. Why had Jake betrayed her so? Tears welled up, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she marched on. She wasn’t going to cry.

Not for him.

Not for what he’d done.

She kept on walking. She needed to get away from him. As soon as he’d told her, something had stirred inside her, something she hadn’t felt before. It was… warm…no, hot. It had been a hot a burning fire. It had quickly grown, making Ash feel like she was made of a pure form of energy. The memory of that sudden sensation sent fearful shivers down her spine. If she had stayed near Jake, she’d have lashed out with a power she couldn’t control. But she didn’t want to hurt him. She still loved him.

Ash marched on and balled her fists. She brought them to her mouth, biting down hard to prevent herself from screaming out in frustration. How could she hate someone she loved so much? Did he honestly not give a damn about her that he did what he had done? In her head, he kept saying his words to her, over and over again, like a message on repeat. She couldn’t stop it. Her mind refused to process them in a rational manner. Surprise, anger, betrayal, disappointment, resentment, those were the emotions fighting for attention right now.

The sound of cracking ice caused Ash to open her eyes in alert. The night was dark, and there was no moon visible with the snow falling. Her head whipped around. From the size of the school hall, she gathered she had walked onto Deadman Lake. Could she make it back safely?

Another crack.

Eyes drawn down, Ash saw the snow break apart in lines radiating outward from her feet. As the ice underneath the snow broke apart and tilted, her feet slipped on the smooth surface. She flung her arms out in an attempt to get a hold of something to keep her upright, finding nothing but air. She heard something break as her skull hit the edge of the remaining ice. A sharp pain splintered through her head, and she gasped. Icy water sloshed into her mouth. She expelled it out of her lungs with a violent burst of air.

Now, as her legs became heavy with the water in her boots, her arms scurried through the snow, her hands trying to get a grip on the lake’s icy surface. But the cracks had undermined its strength, and every time Ash put some weight on the ice, it broke off and slipped from her numbed hands, bobbing up and down on the water’s surface.

Ash panicked as the water made its way through her winter clothing, enveloping her body. The water felt like the cold fingers of Death grabbing her, pulling her down with unrelenting determination. The cold and fear paralyzed her body. Her head disappeared underneath the black water’s surface, and her body began jerking as she fought the temptation to breathe. Was anybody going to rescue her? Was she going to survive her stupid mistake? Now Jake wasn’t hers anymore, did it really matter? Was there anything to live for in this godforsaken town?

Consciously, Ash stopped struggling, finding peace in the cold numbness. Darkness surrounded her as the last bit of air escaped her lips, and death claimed Ashley’s life.

Chapter 2

Jing

A sudden dread came over Jing Locklear. A cold feeling that arose from the inside, the wrong kind of cold. She looked around the mass of people congregated in Deadman Town’s school hall for the Halloween celebrations. Everybody was listening to Mayor Henry Begay giving his annual speech about community spirit. The speech was uplifting, stimulating, one of Henry’s better ones. Ash had been standing next to her, listening to the speech as well, but now Ash was nowhere to be seen.

Jing spotted Sheriff Martin, and she made her way to him. “John, have you seen Ash?”

Sheriff John Martin, together with deputy Andy Miller, was in charge of keeping the people of Deadman Town safe, but at the moment he was listening to the Mayor’s speech, leaning nonchalantly with folded arms against the wall rather than paying attention to his charge.

John threw a quick glance at Jing. “Can’t say that I have.”

Jing waited for John to elaborate or perhaps some form of action to find her daughter, but John diverted his attention back to the Mayor. She looked around anxiously, hoping to spot a glimpse of Ash in the crowd.

“Isn’t she with Jake?” John said absentmindedly.

The whole town knew Ash and Jake were a couple, sweethearts since high school. They had been together for over a year. They were good kids, compared to some others like that friend Maggie.

“They’re probably be making out in the corridors or in one of the classrooms,” John added when he saw Jing’s anxious expression.

Jing frowned and looked around again, her sleek, long, black hair following her moves graciously. “Yeah, I better look for Jake. She’ll be with him, I guess.”

Jing didn’t hold her breath expecting to find Ash with Jake. She’d heard the rumors. And the cold feeling inside her was getting worse. This feeling was not to be ignored. She needed to find Ash, now. As she elbowed her way through the crowd, she suddenly spotted Jake’s tousled hair sticking out above the rest at the back of the hall. She picked up her pace and made her way over to him.

“Jake, where’s Ash?”

The tall, lanky teenager looked at Jing. He saw the intense worry on her face. She noted the red-rimmed eyes of the boy.

“I told her, Mrs. Lock. I told Ash. She… she stormed outside before I could explain.” His arm moved in the direction of the emergency side door of the hall and fell limply beside his body again.

“Come with me,” Jing told the boy as she grabbed him by the sleeve.

Together they went through the door into the freezing cold of the night. In the light of the open door, Jing saw the footprints her daughter had left, half covered by snow already. They went straight toward the lake. The cold feeling inside Jing became colder every second. She ran. Jake followed. When they stopped at the end of solid ground, the footprints didn’t. Jing clasped the clothing at her chest.

“Shit! Ash! Ash, are you there?” she called out. There was nothing but silence in return.

Jake squinted to see into the distance but couldn’t see anyone. “You don’t think…?” he said.

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a wailing coming from the hall. It had been there in the background, but now it became more pronounced.

Jing turned to Jake and grabbed his arm. “Yes, I do think she’s gone under. You get the sheriff and tell him to set up a rescue team. I’ll get Dr. Stein.”

Together they ran back to the gym.

Chapter 3

Ernie

‘According to statements, Molly, one of the girls working at The Long Line massage parlor, is the best swimmer in town. She didn’t hesitate to come to the rescue once it was made public that Ashley, daughter of post office operator Mrs. Jing Locklear, had gone under the ice of the lake. Time was of the essence,’ Ernie wrote on the notepad of his cell phone. Being reporter for the Deadman Town Gazette didn’t come more exciting than tonight. Ernie wondered if he should write down the girl hadn’t hesitated to strip naked before diving in, but then decided not to. Every male in town had probably seen her naked at one time or another and probably didn’t find it news. ‘Everybody held their breath the whole time she was under. Seconds passed, then minutes. Even Callie Thrace, Molly’s boss and Madam of The Long Line, stopped tapping on her cell phone. ‘Molly emerged from the water of Deadman Lake, dragging the body of Ashley Jane Locklear with her. A sigh of relief was audible from the crowd. The tension immediately renewed as Ashley had been under for an undetermined time, and it wasn’t certain she was going to live.’

Ernie’s concentration on his typing was interrupted by a commotion coming from the hall.

“Get out of the way!” a voice called. A short-haired, stocky man with typical Athabascan Native American features made his way through the crowd.

Ernie knew Frank Yazzie was Deadman Town’s general practitioner, surgeon, midwife, psychiatrist, and emergency veterinary surgeon. He was whatever the town needed. At the moment, he was the paramedic, offering first aid. He was followed in his footsteps by his tall and slender, blonde, female nurse, and Jing Locklear.

Frank shoo-ed the curious bystanders out of the way. They all did a step back, not wanting to get on the wrong side of the person who may one day need to save their lives, only to step forward again as soon as the doctor had passed. Ernie made sure he kept close to the man as he didn’t want to miss anything. This was going to be a great article for the Gazette.

The doctor kneeled in the snow next to the ghost-white body of the drowned girl. After feeling no pulse and verifying with his stethoscope that her heartbeat was absent, he threw a quick look over his shoulder at her mother.

‘He didn’t say it, but everyone now knew the girl was dead. Her mother’s eyes pleaded for the doctor to do his best,’ Ernie wrote. ‘Without hesitation, he first gave mouth-to-mouth to the girl, then began chest compressions.’

“Row, row, row your boat. Get the defibrillator from the car,” Frank said to his nurse after which he continued to sing, ‘merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream,’ to the beat of the compressions. His breath formed puffs of cloud in the cold night air.

Nurse Anne Stein put a lock of hair behind her ear and hesitated. “Shouldn’t we open her up and do a manual heart massage?”

Jing looked in horror at the nurse.

Frank didn’t seem phased. “Stein, get the defibrillator,” was all he said, and he shuffled sideways on his knees to give mouth-to-mouth again.

As Stein hurried on her away, Ernie focused on the people surrounding the spectacle.

“Maybe I can be of help?” a dark and hollow voice said.

Frank didn’t look up. He apparently already knew the voice belonged to Darious Le Doux.

Jing shot the tall, dark-clad man with the pale complexion a fiery look. It was accompanied by what sounded like a growl from Mingan Randall who stood next to Darious. His face was the opposite of Darious’s face – full of facial hair and with a healthy, sun-blessed complexion.

“Over my dead body,” Jing spat.

Darious looked back with an expression which unmistakably conveyed the words, ‘that can be arranged.’

Ernie lapped up the exchange and he kept tapping notes on his cell has he continued his observations.

 “You can’t if she’s already dead, Darious,” Frank said as he straightened after his mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and resumed compression of Ash’s chest.

Suddenly, Ash’s body cramped, and she coughed the murky water of the lake out of her lungs. Frank quickly turned the girl onto her side, helping her to expel the water blocking her airway.

‘Tears streamed from her mother’s eyes in relief to see her daughter come back to life,’ Ernie wrote. He looked at the girl and saw some of her color return. “Is she going to be okay?” he asked the doctor.

Everybody looked up at him for a moment but quickly returned their attention to the girl without giving him another thought. Jing’s look of annoyance lingered a little longer on him, probably because she knew the death of her daughter was going to be front page news tomorrow.

“I think she’s going to make it,” Frank said as he got up.

Jing exchanged worried glances with Frank, but dropped down on her knees opposite the doctor, grabbed her daughter’s hand, and kissed it. Ernie’s thumb hesitated tapping. Why the worried exchange? After a little consideration of the situation, he figured it out. ‘The mother was worried about the effect of oxygen deprivation on Ash’s brain. The girl had been under for a long time, and it already was a miracle she had been revived.’ Ernie looked at the bystanders. This was such a great experience.

Chapter 4

Ash

When she was able to breathe normally, Ash rolled onto her back again and stared at the faces bent over her. For a moment she couldn’t figure out where she was, but then the memories came flooding back. She must have been saved after all.

The first person she saw was her mother, a grateful smile upon her face, and Ash smiled back at her. She was relieved to see her mother. It gave her a sense of security, of being safe. It also made her feel slightly warmer. Next to her stood Jake, the bastard. He looked apologetic, but Ash wasn’t ready to deal with him just yet. Her eyes quickly moved on. Maggie, her BFF, stood next to Jake and smiled at her. Ash wondered if her face was wet from crying or from the snow.

“Good to have you back, girl,” Maggie said as she wiped at the wetness on her face.

Maggie was a good friend. Ash wished she’d gone to her instead of going outside on her own. For one thing, she wouldn’t be so freezing cold now.

Ash’s eyes moved on. There were quite a few people gathered around her. She found it terribly embarrassing. The Halloween party was supposed to be a fun one and inside the school hall, not having the main attraction of looking at a drowned girl in the freezing cold outside. She found the kind face of Dr. Yazzie. Nurse Stein just arrived behind him. The woman was out of breath and holding a little suitcase with an electricity sign on it. Her smile dropped upon seeing Ash alive and well which made Ash frown a little. Next to Dr. Yazzie Ash saw more familiar faces.

There were Mr. Le Doux and Mr. Randall. Ash had to smile to see the two restaurant rivals standing next to each other. A rare occasion. They were usually opposite each other, just like their establishments. Madam Callie was there, holding a blanket around Molly whose hair was wet. Ice crystals glistened in it. It dawned on Ash she must have been the one who had fished her out of the lake. Of all people, it had to be the minx who had lured Jake away from her. A heat rose and ebbed inside Ash. She gritted her teeth.

“Thanks,” Ash said to her.

“It’s nothing,” Molly said and lowered her eyes.

Madam Callie tightened her hug around Molly as Jing squeezed and rubbed Ash’s hand.

All the other people standing around suddenly looked embarrassed and avoided eye contact with Ash. Why? Then it dawned on Ash. They all knew what had happened, why Ash had walked out on to the lake. The news of Jake’s infidelity had already spread like wildfire. Deadman Town was a tight-knit, small town, after all. Nothing was a secret for long here.

Suddenly, Ash noticed one man looking directly at her with curiosity. He was handsome, but Ash couldn’t recollect seeing him before. He was dressed in plain clothes and held a mobile phone in one hand. Had he been taking photos of her? He looked excitedly at her. She couldn’t believe he was so happy with her misery. She blinked and looked at him, frowning.

“Who are you?” she said.

Follow me on a journey of words

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