(Another Twitter-prompted story!)
Henry’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel and he kept leaning forward to peer up at the sky. He didn’t like this — being out in the open plains with nasty-looking black clouds rolling in. He would much rather be back at his mundane suburban house leading his mundane suburban life. The wind sent his mundane suburban sedan skidding across the road and Henry whimpered a prayer that he find shelter soon.
His salvation came in the form of an old Fill’er Up station, and Henry soon found himself seated on a rickety folding chair, sipping burnt coffee and talking with Willy, the station owner. “Any idea how long this is going to last?” Henry asked, peering out the window.
If Willy answered, Henry didn’t hear.
The clouds had almost completely blotted out the sun by now, and the lone street light at the edge of the ancient service station flicked on – its feeble beams illuminated a lone figure approaching the station on a tandem bicycle. Henry watched the man ride up to the door. He left the bike leaning against the front wall of the store and strolled inside as if the raging storm simply did not exist in his reality.
“Good morning, Jefferson.” Willy nodded a greeting to the man.
“And a very good morning to you, too, William!” Jefferson replied in an accent Henry couldn’t place. He swung his eyes over to Henry and smiled widely. “Ah, I see you have company this morning.” He reached Henry in two strides and extended a hand. “Jefferson Campbell, at your service.”
Henry was gawping. He could feel it and he hated it, but he couldn’t stop himself. The man before him stood just under six feet tall. His baggy brown trousers sported patches of varying colors and patterns, and the cream colored waistcoat he wore in lieu of a shirt contrasted against his deep bronze skin. He topped the outfit off with a brown felt bowler and old-fashioned aviator goggles which he let dangle around his neck.
Impressive attire aside, it was the leather bandolier and holster that captured Henry’s attention. Instead of magazines or shotgun shells, the bandolier was lined with the feathery stabilizers of darts. The bright colors gave the man the effect of being draped in some sort of lethal lei.
“It’s alright, mate, I don’t bite unless you ask nicely.” Jefferson grinned, his hand still extended. “You can ask William here.”
Henry turned crimson and awkwardly shook the offered hand. “Sorry,” he stammered. “Henry Spertz.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Mister Spertz.” Jefferson bowed his head slightly, almost formally. “Just passing through?”
Henry nodded. “On my way to Sinclair for business. Willy’s letting me ride out the storm here.”
Jefferson lifted his eyebrows at mention of the weather and looked out the window. He jerked his head back in surprise. “Well what do you know! They blow in quick around here, don’t they? Been here three years already and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.”
“Oh? Where are you from originally?” Henry started to relax some around the strange man. He sat back in his chair and continued drinking his coffee.
“Eh, where you start a journey ain’t as important as how you reach your destination, is it?”
“All right, then. How’d you end up here?”
Jefferson flashed another wide, perfect smile. “Now that’s the real question. How do any of us wind up where we are? For my part, I knew I was ready for a change. See, I went to school, studied, got my certification and had set up business as a mortician. I was good at it, too: comforting families in their time of grief; helping them settle all the little ugly details we leave behind; assure their loved ones will be fine in the Hereafter. Then one day I got sick of makin’ haggis out of Aunt Mabel, and I…”
His words were cut off as Henry spewed coffee all over the hot dog grill.
“I didn’t mean it literally! Good lord, man! What sort of monster do you take me for?!” He drew a thick roll of money from a pocket, peeled off a few bills, and handed them to Willy. “That should cover the cost of your stock.” He shook his head. “Honestly, what sort of sick bastard thinks like that? I like him, William. Think we can keep him?” He looked back to the red-faced Henry and winked.
“Anyways,” Jefferson continued, “the point was, I realized death was no longer the life for me. So I hung up my drain tube and set out to enjoy this big ol’ world. Traveled around some, had my adventures.” He patted the dart gun on his hip. “Picked up this baby in Zambia… or maybe Boise. Eventually made my way here and settled down. Got me a pretty little camel ranch out on Route 43.”
Still flustered from the haggis gaff, Henry nodded. “I see,” he replied, even though he really didn’t. “And the bicycle built for two?”
“Bikes are great transport — clean, quiet, don’t have to keep filling it up. No offense, William.”
Willy nodded slightly as he continued cleaning coffee out of the grill rollers.
“But why two seats?”
“Well, what if I have a hot date?” Jefferson retorted. “Speaking of… “ He looked Henry up and down and waggled his eyebrows.
“I… er… uh… I’m flattered… business…” Henry spluttered, his complexion matching the red lettering on the newly-cleaned grill.
Jefferson’s laugh was deep and throaty. “I’m just having a bit of sport with you, Mister Spertz. Now if you both will excuse me, time to see what else life has in store for me today.” He pulled his goggles up. “Have an excellent life, gentlemen.” With a tip of his bowler, Jefferson Campbell strode out the door, collected his bike, and disappeared back into the storm.