06 January 2009

The Stranger in the Compound

This is a story that I came up with years ago, but never finished. I recently re-wrote it to be a short story, though it had started out being a novel about redemption. I hope the message I wanted to convey is still there:

Posted 6 January 2009 upon this website by K.S. Wood - please ask permission before reprinting!


He came out of nowhere, just wandered in from the desert, carrying nothing. He wore a simple outfit; dark denim jeans, a stained white shirt, worn out cowboy boots and a denim jacket that was destined soon for the rag bag. And yet, he carried an air of confidence about him, despite his unkempt, road weary appearance. She noticed him long before he was even close enough to see his facial features.

Susan stood in the middle of the desert herself, as far away from the compound as she even dared without the fear of being spotted by the guards. Kate had shown her a hole in the fence only the day before, and she gladly made her escape into the desert for a few hours of solitude. She stood, staring up at the stars and the moon, contemplating life outside of the compound. She wondered if anyone could survive crossing the desert on foot, if it were even possible to escape the life she had, when she noticed him crossing the desert, his profile shining in the light of the full moon. He walked as if nothing in particular caught his attention, just admiring the bleak world in its entirety, as if it were a gem in itself.

He continued to walk, closer and closer towards her, but didn't seem to notice she was watching him until he was about a hundred yards away. Then he looked up, and his dark brown eyes flashed in the moonlight with something as he stared at her. Their eyes locked and for a moment, all seemed to be well with her world, but only for a brief moment. A noise brought her back to her present state of mind.

The guards were starting their rounds again. Worried that he had no idea what would happen if the guards found a stranger in their midst, she beckoned him to follow and then darted back under the fence. She checked to make sure he followed her, and with relief noticed he not only followed her, but was beside her as she ran. She spoke not a word to him, but darted into a nearby dwelling, holding the door open only long enough for him to enter as well before pulling the flap shut.

She struck a match and lit the kerosene lamp that hung in the center of her dwelling. A blondish head roused from a pile of blankets in one corner.

“Mama?” a young girl's voice called out.

“Shh,” the woman whispered as she smoothed the covers and kissed the child's head. “Sleep, Katie. I am home.”

Katie nodded and snuggled back into her blankets, closing her hazel eyes, but not before they met with the stranger's dark ones. She fell asleep with a big grin on her face.

“The guards kill those who are outsiders if they do not have the proper clearances to enter this compound,” the woman said, speaking to the stranger for the first time. “I can let you spend the night here, but you must be gone by first light. I can sneak you back out of the compound, but you'll have to be ready when I wake in the morning. Then you can be on your way to wherever you were headed before you got lost.”

“Who said I was lost?”

The words were spoken in a soft voice that caught her off guard.

Why anyone would choose this God-forsaken place to come to when some many of the villagers wanted to escape it was beyond her. She looked back into the dark brown eyes again. A calming sensation came over her and something made sense, even if it was completely clear what.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name is Nicholas.”

“You say you are not lost? Are you sure?”

The brown eyes held her own. All the feelings of oppression she had held for so many years suddenly melted away.

Tears came to her eyes. “It's been years since anyone has been so caring to me,” she cried. “After the war, we came here, my husband and I. I was carrying Katie then. Malchus and his men had promised to keep us safe, but we are his captives, just like all the others who asked for his protection.”

The brown eyes never lost their compassion as she continued to talk on, telling the stranger her story. After what seemed like hours, he took her hand in his own gently.

For a few moments, all was well. Then a thought crossed her mind and she became seized with fear, not for her own safety, but for the well being of the man who she dared to smuggle into the compound.

“Who are you?” she asked again. “If you are not lost, then why come here? Why risk your life to enter a place that does not welcome you?”

“You welcomed me.”

She had to agree with him, but was not completely convinced.

“I come with a purpose. Fear not, my friend.”

There was a weariness in his face that she had not seen.

“You must be tired. I am sorry I have nothing to offer you but a mere floor for a bed. Since my husband's death, I have slept with my daughter to keep warm on these long cold nights. I can give you what I can spare in bedding. Tomorrow I must sneak you out, for if I am caught with an outsider it means certain death for the two of us.”

“But you are willing to risk that death to see that I am comfortable for one night.”

She nodded wearily. After placing a few blankets on a chair, she bid the stranger good night and climbed into the loft to snuggle into bed next to her daughter.

She was wakened by a loud pounding on the door.

“By the order of General Malchus, open up!”

“Mama?” Katie cried, jumping with fright.

Susan panicked as she climbed down the ladder, trying to think of where she could hide the stranger in her meager cottage. She went to wake him, but found the blankets neatly folded on the floor. The fire had been stoked. The stranger was no where to be seen.

She had only a moment to take in the scene before the pounding began again.

Three guards stood on her doorstep, their guns resting against their shoulders. An officer in Malchus' army held a sheet of paper in his hand. He glanced her over, then pushed her aside and entered into her home.

“We received a tip that you were seen escorting an unknown male into your building last night. Where is he?”

“There is no one unknown here, sir,” Susan said, trying not to tremble. “It is only myself and my daughter. We should both be registered. You may look about if you wish.”

The cottage was searched thoroughly as Susan stood outside, her arms wrapped around her daughter's small shoulders. When nothing out of the ordinary was found, then soldiers left, but not before the officer gave her and her daughter a stern look.

“Should he come again, it would be in your best interest to turn him over to the proper authorities.”

Susan shuddered, and then stood tall. Nicholas had given her hope, something that had been missing for sometime. And even though she felt within her very core that he was never coming back, she knew that he was safe, and bringing a little bit of comfort to someone else in their time of need.

As they watched the soldiers leave their hovel, Katie looked up at her mother.

“Mama, was it a man who was here?”

Susan pulled her back into their cottage and shut the door before she answered.

"Yes, sweetie. Why do you ask?”

“I didn't see a man last night”

“You were sleeping, sweetie.”

Katie shook her head. “I saw an angel, like the ones that Mrs. Claire tells me in secret when she's watching me. The ones that God uses to bring hope and comfort to people. Everyone says they're just fairy tales, but do you think so?”

Susan smiled as she thought about Nicholas. “No sweetie, I don't think so.”

“Are angels real, Mama?”

Susan nodded. “Yes, they are.”

And from that moment, she believed.